Fish Oil Omega-3s
benefit your brain, heart, eye, and more
What Is Fish Oil Omega-3?
Fish oil is the fat or oil that’s extracted from fish tissue. It usually comes from oily fish, such as sardines, sadherring, tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Sometimes it comes from the livers of other fish, as is the case with cod liver oil.
If you don’t eat sufficient fish every week, fish oil supplements can help you get enough omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats responsible for most of the brain and mental health benefits of fish oil. Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to choose fish oil.
The main omega-3s in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The omega-3 in plant sources is mainly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Although ALA is an essential fatty acid, EPA and DHA have many more health benefits. Humans can’t convert ALA to EPA and DHA very efficiently. Research estimates that human body can only convert less than 10% of the amount of ALA to EPA or DHA.
What are the benefits of taking fish oil?
Fish oil is one of the most commonly consumed dietary supplements. It’s also one of the most researched supplements.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are critical for normal brain function and development throughout all stages of life. They are abundant in the cell membranes of brain cells, preserving cell membrane health and facilitating communication between brain cell. There are also claims that Omega-3 can improve brain function in people with memory problems, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive impairments. Research shows that Omega-3 supplements may be most beneficial when people start taking them in the early stages of brain function decline. If you wait too long, fish oil may be of little benefit to the brain.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Studies show that people who eat a lot of fish have much lower rates of heart disease. The consumption of fish or fish oil can effectively reduce multiple risk factors for heart disease:
- Cholesterol levels:It can increase levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. However, it does not appear to reduce levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Triglycerides: It can lower triglycerides by about 15–30%
- Blood pressure: Even in small doses, it helps reduce blood pressure in people with elevated levels.
- Plaque: It may prevent the plaques that cause your arteries to harden, as well as make arterial plaques more stable and safer in those who already have them.
- Fatal arrhythmias: In people who are at risk, it may reduce fatal arrhythmia events. Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms that can cause heart attacks in certain cases.
While Omega-3 supplements can improve many of the risk factors for heart disease, there is no final conclusion that it can prevent heart attacks or strokes .
Omega-3 supplements may help reduce waist circumference, as well as aid weight loss when combined with diet or exercise.
Because Omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties, it may help treat conditions involving chronic inflammation. In stressed and obese individuals, Omega-3 can reduce the production and gene expression of inflammatory molecules called cytokines. Moreover, Omega-3 supplements can significantly reduce joint pain, stiffness, and medication needs in people with rheumatoid arthritis, which causes painful joints.
Omega-3 supplements in pregnant and breastfeeding mothers may improve hand-eye coordination in infants
How much fish oil should I take?
There are no official recommendations regarding how much omega-3s from fish oil you need to take to see benefits in brain function and mental health. The US Food and Drug Administration has set a safe upper limit for the intake of omega-3 fatty acid supplements at 3,000 mg per day. The European Food Safety Authority has set their recommendation a little higher, at no more than 5,000 mg per day.
Taking 1,000–2,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil daily is likely a good starting point that is well under the recommended upper limit. People with depression should choose fish oil supplements with higher amounts of EPA.
It is very important to read labels carefully when evaluating Omega-3 supplements. A 1,000-mg capsule of fish oil might contain less than 500 mg of actual omega-3 fatty acids. However, this will vary from product to product.
In general, fish oil supplements are considered safe at dosages under those that were mentioned previously. However, as always, you should talk to your physician before starting fish oil supplements.
How to choose fish oil?
Bear in mind of the following points when you select fish oil supplement:
EPA and DHA dosage recommendations vary depending on your age and health. Choose a fish oil supplement that provides at least 0.3 grams (300 mg) of EPA and DHA per serving.
Fish oil supplements come in a number of forms, including ethyl esters (EE), triglycerides (TG), reformed triglycerides (rTG), free fatty acids (FFA) and phospholipids (PL). Your body doesn’t absorb ethyl esters easily. You should try to choose a fish oil supplement that comes in other better absorbed form.
Many supplements contain up to 1,000 mg of fish oil per serving — but only 300 mg of EPA and DHA. Choose a supplement that contains at least 500 mg of EPA and DHA per 1,000 mg of fish oil.
A number of Omega-3 supplements don’t contain what they say they do. To avoid these products, choose a supplement that is third-party tested . It is a good sign to have a seal of purity from the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).
Omega-3 fatty acids are prone to oxidation, which makes them go rancid. To avoid this, you can choose a supplement that contains an antioxidant, such as Vitamin E. Also, keep your supplements away from light — ideally in the refrigerator. Don’t use a Omega-3 supplement that has a rancid smell or is out of date.
The production of fish oil from anchovies and similar small fish is more sustainable than that from large fish.
The ability to absorb the beneficial components of fish oil is based on the molecular shape of the fatty acids. The more natural the structure the better. TG form is much better the EE form.
Did you know?
Eating fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and should satisfy your EPA/DHA needs if you do so 2 or 3 times a week. However, not everyone is a seafood fan. There are concerns about mercury levels and other environmental toxins in fish, especially larger species. Plus, if you don’t like fish, have a fish allergy, or you’re a vegetarian or pregnant, then try taking fish oil supplements.
In the process of producing fish oil, mercury and other toxins can be virtually eliminated with the use of high quality raw materials and advanced distillation technologies.
Fish living in cold water are rich in EPA and DHA, which keep fish tissues from freezing and blood from coagulating in very cold environment. In fact, coldwater fish have 14 times more omega-3 fatty acids than warm water fish. Fish oil is highly sensitive to temperature, light and could oxidizes at room temperature.
Natural fish oil only contains 30% of omega-3s, while the remaining 70% is other fats. It needs purified and/or concentrated, transforming the fats into the ethyl ester form, and that is what you usually buy in the market. Concentrating the oil can also increase EPA and DHA levels. In fact, these oils may contain 50–90% pure EPA and/or DHA. Unfortunately, processed fish oil are more vulnerable to oxidation and less easily absorbed by the body, unless they’re converted back into triglycerides via a synthetic process. These oils are referred to as reformed (or re-esterified) triglycerides, or “TG”. They are the most expensive fish oil supplements and only make up a small percentage of the market, but it is well worthy the money.
Fish oil is extracted from the body flesh of fish, while cod liver oil is extracted from cod livers. While both are good sources of the omega–3s EPA and DHA, they provide different ratios—cod liver oil generally contains about 9% EPA and 14% DHA, whereas natural fish oil generally contains about 18% EPA and 12% DHA. Another difference is that cod liver oil also generally contains some vitamins A and D.
Fish Oil vs. Krill Oil
Krill oil is a supplement that contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. The chemical structure of its fatty acids and red color set it apart from fish oil. Krill oil contains an antioxidant called astaxanthin, which is not found in most fish oils. Some studies have shown that krill oil may be better absorbed by the body and more effective at improving risk factors for heart disease.
If you are looking for a supplement rich in EPA and DHA at a reasonable price, fish oil may be your best option. On the other hand, if you are willing to spend the extra money for potentially greater health benefits, you may want to consider taking krill oil.
Birth control pills might interfere with the triglyceride-lowering effects of fish oil.
Using fish oil with drugs that lower blood pressure may increase the effects of these drugs and may lower blood pressure too much.
Because of fish oil’s effects on blood clotting, this is especially important if you are currently taking blood-thinning medications or have an upcoming surgery.
Main Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid. It’s a component of every cell in your body and a vital structural component of your skin, eyes and brain. DHA makes the membranes and gaps between nerve cells more fluid, making it easier for cells to communicate. Because your body can’t make DHA in significant amounts, you need to get it from your diet or supplements.
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is a fatty acid found in the flesh of coldwater fish. Don’t confuse EPA with DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and fish oils, which contain EPA and DHA. People use EPA for some heart-related conditions including clogged heart arteries (coronary artery disease), to prevent or treat heart attacks, and to reduce levels of blood fats called triglycerides in people with very high levels. People also use EPA for some mental conditions including schizophrenia, personality disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
α-Linolenic acid is an n−3 fatty acid. It is one of two essential fatty acids, so called because they are necessary for health and the human body cannot produce it. Diet is the main source. ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in seeds, nuts, and many common vegetable oils.
Essential Fatty Acids
Many mainstream health organizations recommend a minimum of 250–500 mg of omega-3s per day for healthy adults .You can get high amounts of omega-3 fats from fatty fish, algae and several high-fat plant foods. Omega-3 fatty acids are a category of fats that are vital for your cells to function properly. The only way to obtain omega-3 fatty acids is through your diet or through supplementation, because the body doesn’t produce these important compounds. Omega-3 can improve cardiovascular health. In addition, they can help maintain proper brain and nerve function, and they provide support for healthy joints and eyes. There’s also some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help manage weight. Two of the most crucial omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The National Institute of Health has an in-depth discussion about Omega-3s.
Omega 6 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid that the body needs for normal growth and development. They are abundant in vegetable oils and beef, chicken, eggs. Excess consumption of omega-6s can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals. The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is 4:1 or less. However, the Western diet has a ratio between 10:1 and 50:1. Therefore, although omega-6 fats are essential in the right quantities, most people in the developed world should aim to reduce their omega-6 intake or increase Omega-3 intake. There is one omega-6, however, called gamma linolenic acid (GLA) with an impressive set of disease-fighting powers.
Our pick of the best fish oil and krill oil: