by Darlyn Britt
On its face, fish oil sounds like something you find in a dirty frying pan after a lakeside campout. But fish oil supplements offer a school of health benefits for the cardiovascular and nervous systems that really shouldn’t be overlooked.
What Is it?
Fish oil typically comes from deep-sea, cold-water fish like mackerel, sardines and anchovies. These fish and some others have very oily flesh that naturally contains a great deal of omega-3 fatty acids.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – that’s a mouthful – are two of the most common omega-3s, and these are found abundantly in the right deep-sea fish. Eating fish twice a week helps you get these essential and beneficial fats into your body.
What Makes Fish Oil So Great?
Put simply, fish oil contains healthy fats the body needs for vital processes. Omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA, are found in many body tissues, like the brain, retina and sperm cells. Our bodies cannot manufacture these fatty acids, so we must get them from food. Hence the term essential fatty acids.
But not everyone likes the taste of fish, so supplements are a wonderful, more palatable option.
Aren’t Some Fats Bad?
Yes a lot of oils and fats are definitely bad for you. Certain oils like trans fats – AKA partially hydrogenated oils that turns to a solid at room temperature – should be avoided. Saturated fats that you find in meats, eggs, dairy products and tropical oils should also be limited.
But fish oil, with its omega-3 fatty acids, is actually a “healthy oil.” Like olive oil (a monounsaturated fat), it offers multiple health benefits.
Perhaps! Omega-3 fatty acids (or omega oils) in fish oil have been associated with many health benefits:
- Are essential for heart health
- May help in the prevention of heart disease and stroke
- Help lower triglyceride levels
- May help improve HDL (good) cholesterol levels
- Support healthy blood pressure levels
- Support brain health
- Support eye health (especially dry eyes and retinopathy)
- May help to reduce eye pressure
- May help lower contact lens discomfort
- Support lung health
- Help muscles recover after exercise
- Are essential for reproductive cells
- Support the brain during stressful tasks
- May support the brain dealing with feelings of anxiousness and low mood
- May support attention and focus, stress recovery and memory Support the function of the immune and glandular systems
Let’s look at a few benefits in greater depth.
DHA for Your Noggin
DHA is found in every cell of the body. But it is the primary omega-3 fat in the brain. DHA is noted for its ability to support brain health and function (and brain development in children and youth). It helps increase blood flow in this vital organ during mental challenges.
DHA also seems to help nerve cells communicate faster and better. Several studies show that people both old and young with attention challenges have lower levels of DHA in their blood.
Other Benefits of DHA
- DHA has beneficial properties that may help reduce the risk of age-related issues for the heart and gums.
- It helps with eye health.
- It may help with joint discomfort.
- Getting more DHA helps balance the levels of omega-6 fats (like those found in corn and soybean oil) that are much more common in the American diet.
What about EPA?
According to webmd.com, EPA helps the blood be less sticky and flow better, and it helps reduce triglyceride levels. This fatty acid might also have benefits for joints and overall comfort.
The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association (AHA) recommend fish as part of a heart-healthy diet. They say that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids might help prevent heart disease. It may also help protect brain and eye health and can contribute to fetal development.
A 2013 study found that people who took omega-3 fatty acid supplements for more than 30 days had improved cardio function during mentally stressful tests. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajpregu.00031.2013
A study published in 2017 reported that older adults with Alzheimer’s disease have less DHA in their brains than their peers with good brain function. Furthermore, DHA supplementation may help reduce the risk—or delay the onset—of Alzheimer’s symptoms in certain people. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28114437/
And a study in the European Health Journal found that omega-3 fatty acids provide cardiometabolic benefits like:
- Reduction of cytokine levels
- Reduced risk of severe arrhythmias
- Plus benefits for people with heart failure
It also found that consuming 1,000 mg per day is well tolerated and does not increase the risk of bleeding. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279313/
Not a Fish Story, Fish HISTORY
Biochemist M. L. Burr and his partner Mr. Evans discovered essential fatty acids in 1929. Their team’s research found that mammals could not synthesize double bonds at the n-3 and n-6 positions of the carbon chain of a fatty acid. So humans have to get linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid (ALA) from their diets. For the chemistry fans out there, ALA becomes EPA and DHA through elongation and desaturation.
In 1937, after a visit with Evans, British physiologist Hugh Sinclair wondered if coronary artery disease was linked to a deficiency in polyunsaturated fatty acids. A few years later, he began visiting Inuit (in this case Canadian Eskimos) people and felt that his theory was validated: that omega-3 fatty acids in the diet protect against atherosclerosis. He proposed this theory in a letter to the Lancet in 1956.
Later his research took him to Greenland where he and two Danish scientists, H. O. Bang and J. Dyerberg, saw firsthand the difference between native and Danish diets.
Average intake of omega-3 fatty acids per day
A subsequent epidemiological study showed that natives who ate nearly a pound of seafood a day, were 10 times less likely to experience myocardial infarction (heart attack) than the Danes. These scientists also noted differences between the two groups, including platelet composition, bleeding time, serum triglyceride levels and HDL cholesterol levels. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279313/
In 1985, a study from the Netherlands found that adding fish to the diet once or twice a week was associated with a lower risk of fatal coronary artery disease compared to the diet of men who did not eat fish. And in 1989, researchers discovered that cardiac patients who added two fatty fish meals per week to their diet lowered their coronary artery disease (CAD) mortality significantly compared to those who did not.
Bottom line? Eat more fatty fish for your health.
What if You Don’t Live Anywhere Near the Water? Or Really Don’t Like Fish?!
Supplements to the rescue! In a brilliant move, fish oil has been encapsulated for all of us who can’t, don’t or won’t eat fish by the fork.
Don’t flounder. Make fish oil part of your daily routine.