Fish oil is a dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids, derived from oily fish tissues. The fishes do not produce omega-3 fatty acids but they accumulate them by eating micro-algae or prey fish that have collected omega-3 fatty acids.
The omega-3 fatty acids help in reducing inflammation in the body and improve hypertriglyceridemia. It is a substance that the human body needs for many critical functions, from muscle activity to cell growth.
Much predatory fatty fish that might be high in omega-3 fatty acids includes sharks, swordfish, tilefish, and albacore tuna; however, due to their top position in the food chain, they also tend to accumulate many toxic substances through a process called biomagnification.
Fish Oil Benefits
Many researchers have conducted various studies on the effects and benefits of consuming fish oil and omega-3 fatty acid. Some of the significant conditions that con be bettered are listed below:
Fights chronic inflammation
Oils extracted from fatty fish are known to help lower inflammation and improve inflammatory conditions in the body. As such chronic and low-grade inflammation is usually associated with premature ageing and several diseases, omega-3s offer a broad spectrum of health protection.
Some studies have shown that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) can be benefited a lot by fish oil consumption as it has various protective effects on the brain and the nervous system.
Many studies show that women who eat fish with a high level of omega 3 have a lesser risk of post-partum depression. Eating fatty fish two or three times a week may be beneficial. Moreover, food sources are more helpful and recommended, rather than supplements, as they also have protein and minerals.
Mental health benefits
Research shows that fish oils may help young people with behavioral problems, especially those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study concluded that kids who consumed 8-16gms of EPA and DHA per day showed significant improvements in their behavior.
Consuming omega-3 fatty acid can improve working memory in healthy young adults. Moreover, in one study, fish oil enhanced cognitive performance in healthy adults between the ages of 51 and 72 in just five weeks.
Heart and cardiovascular benefits
Fish oil is found to help increase “good” HDL cholesterol while lowering triglycerides (or blood fats) and also reduce blood pressure. All these prevent plaques from forming in arteries and stave off hardening of the arteries. It is recommended by the AHA to eat oily fish for at least twice a week to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Boosts bone density
In any typical diet, it is easier to find more omega-6 fatty acids, which are consumed in the form of corn and sunflower oil as compared to omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance has resulted in low bone density in both genders. However, older people with increased omega-3 consumption has shown to higher bone density, which makes fish oil a potential mediator for boosting bone density.
Lowers risk of child asthma
Consuming fish oil during pregnancy can help in reducing the risk of asthma in children. It also helps in reducing the risk of infant allergies. However, unattended consumption of fish oil during pregnancy is not advised. Talk to your doctor about its necessity, and the proper dosage and form.
Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders
It is found through various studies that omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of psychosis. These are published in Nature Communications, and the details show how a 12-week intervention with omega-3 supplements considerably reduced the long-term risk of psychotic disorders.
Health fetal development
One way to increase fetal cognitive and motor development is through the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists have found that omega-3 used during the last three months of pregnancy may boost sensory, cognitive, and motor development in the fetus.
Given this extensive list of potential fish oil benefits, one might be ready to start consuming it. However, too much of a good thing can also be dangerous.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Its Types
Omega-3 are essential fatty acids which are necessary for health but is not produced by the human body. They play significant roles in many processes like inflammation, heart health, and brain function. Deficiency of it may be connected with lower intelligence, depression, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and many other health problems. There are mainly three types of omega fatty acids
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
This is the most common of the three and is found primarily in plant foods. It first needs to be converted into EPA or DHA before the human body can utilize it for something other than energy. When not converted, it is stored or used as energy like other fats. Increased consumption of ALA leads to a reduced risk of death from heart disease, while some also show an increased risk of prostate cancer.
ALA is found in many plant foods such as kale, spinach, purslane, soybeans, walnuts, and many seeds, such as chia, flax, and hemp. Also, some seed oils like flaxseed and rapeseed (canola) oil, are high in ALA.
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
It is used to produce signalling molecules called eicosanoids that play important physiological roles and reduce inflammation. Fish oil that is high in EPA and DHA helps in reducing symptoms of depression. Also, in the case of menopausal women, EPA consumption reduces the number of hot flashes.
Both EPA and DHA are mostly available in various seafood, including fatty fish and algae, because of which they are also called marine omega-3s. Herring, salmon, eel, shrimp, and sturgeon have the highest EPA concentrations. Grass-fed animal products, such as dairy and meats, also contain some EPA.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
It is an essential structural component for skin and the retinas of the eyes. Mixing baby formula with DHA leads to improved vision in infants. It is also vital for brain development and function in childhood, as well as brain function in adults. Early-life DHA deficiency is associated with problems later on, such as learning disabilities, ADHD, and aggressive hostility. A decrease in DHA in later life is also linked to impaired brain function and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Consumption of DHA has positive effects on conditions like arthritis, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancers. Also, it can help in boosting heart health by reducing blood triglycerides and possibly the number of LDL (bad) cholesterol particles.
Sources of Fish Oil/Omega-3
Fatty, oily fish is an essential source of DHA and EPA, which are two important types of omega-3 fatty acid.
The following types of fish are some of the best sources of these fatty acids. (For each fish below, the serving size is 3 ounces (oz)):
One of the most popular and highly nutritious types of fish available, they are available in two variants and accordingly the content of omega-3 changes. One serving of farmed salmon contains 1.24 g of DHA and 0.59 g of EPA, while one serving of wild salmon contains 1.22 g of DHA and 0.35 g of EPA. Moreover, salmon also has high levels of protein, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and B vitamins.
It is a small, fatty fish that is usually consumed smoked, and often during breakfast. A serving of mackerel contains 0.59 g of DHA and 0.43 g of EPA along with this it is also a rich source of selenium and vitamin B-12.
It is a famous Japanese fish, whose one serving contains 0.47 g of DHA and 0.18 g of EPA. It also provides protein and selenium.
Restaurant’s favorite shellfish, which is served as an appetizer or snack contains all three major classes of omega-3s. One serving of oysters contains 0.14 g of ALA, 0.23 g of DHA and 0.30 g of EPA. They are also rich in zinc and vitamin B-12.
These are a small, oily fish that is usually sold in cans and can be eaten as a snack or appetizer. One serving of canned sardines contains 0.74 g of DHA and 0.45 g of EPA. Sardines are also a good source of selenium and vitamins B-12 and D.
One serving of shrimp contains 0.12 g of DHA and 0.12 g of EPA. Shrimp is also rich in protein and potassium.
One of the most health beneficial fish for humans, rainbow trout, contains 0.44 g of DHA and 0.40 g of EPA. Also, they are a good source of protein, potassium, and vitamin D.
Vegetable-based alternatives to fish oil for omega 3 include:
- Flax seeds
- Perilla oil
- Chia seeds
- Fresh basil
- Radish seeds, sprouted raw
- Leafy dark green vegetables, such as spinach
- Dried tarragon
Risks of consuming fish oil
Taking fish oils, fish liver oils, and omega-3 supplements may pose a risk for some people. They can sometimes trigger side effects, ordinarily minor gastrointestinal problems such as belching, indigestion, or diarrhea. Fish oil has a blood-thinning effect, which can increase bleeding risk, especially if combined with other blood thinners medicines, like aspirin, or supplemental vitamin E, and foods like garlic, ginger, ginseng, ginkgo, and turmeric.
Fish liver oils contain high levels of vitamins A and D and consuming too much of them can be poisonous.
Moreover, overeating oily fish can increase the chance of poisoning from ocean pollutants. As FDA does not regulate the quality of the supplements, it is recommended to buy from a reputable source and if possible to consume its natural source.
The AHA recommends consuming fatty fish that are low in mercury. This includes shrimp, light canned tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. They also advise avoiding high mercury fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.
Even though many research shows that there are no significant health benefits of consuming fish oil and omega-3, it is suggested that a diet, which offers a variety of nutrients is likely to be healthful.
Experts suggest that choose a supplement that contains 1,000 mg of DHA and EPA combined and taken daily. (If you’re vegan or allergic to fish, there are plant-based options made from algal oil, the marine algae fish eat to produce DHA and EPA.). Supplements can help only if they are taken correctly and with the guidance of a knowledgeable health professional.
Fish Oil: Friend or Foe
It is still a mystery about how food and its component molecules affect the human body. This is one of the main reason as to why consumption of supplements for anything other than treating a deficiency questionable.
Despite its questionable existence, one must consider eating seafood especially fish as a healthy strategy for leading a healthy life. If we could absolutely, positively say that the benefits of eating seafood come entirely from omega-3 fats, then downing fish oil pills would be an alternative to eating fish. But it’s more than likely that you need the entire orchestra of fish fats, vitamins, minerals, and supporting molecules, rather than the lone notes of EPA and DHA.
The same holds of other foods. Taking even a handful of supplements is no substitute for the wealth of nutrients you get from eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
What should you do if you currently take fish oil? If your doctor prescribed them—they are an approved and effective treatment for people with high blood triglyceride levels—follow his or her instructions until you can have a conversation about fish oil.
If you are taking them on your own without any guidance because you believe they are suitable for you, it’s time to rethink that strategy.
Including fish-oil supplements into your diet can be a great way to get all of the heart-health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids at a low cost. Fish-oil supplements may also be good alternatives for vegetarians as well as those who are concerned about the mercury levels often found in seafood. When choosing a fish-oil supplement, make sure it contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).