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The Facts on Fish Oil

Author: Rudy Mawer Contributing Author

Fish oil has gained a lot of press in recent years and is now known as a superfood which can improve health and fight off serious disease. 

Fish oil is probably best associated with a specific type of fat: omega 3. Omega 3 has become one of the most popular supplements around, with research supporting its use and effectiveness.

Omega 3 fats contain two specific types of fat, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic (DHA) which provide a variety of health benefits.

Here, we share eight facts of fish oil, along with a list of omega 3 rich foods to include in your diet.

1. Fish Oil Improves Your Cholesterol

Fish oil and oily fish are well known to improve the health of your heart, so much so that government guideline now recommends two to three servings of oily fish per week.

Omega 3 has been found to increase your “good” cholesterol levels (HDL) and improve the ratio of your HDL to LDL. By improving your cholesterol levels, you will reduce the risk of heart disease or other associated health issues.

2. Fish Oil Fights Inflammation

Research is continually emerging to show that inflammation plays an underlying role in many of today’s serious diseases including heart disease, cancers, stroke, diabetes, and brain disease. 

Chronic inflammation is largely lifestyle related and can be treated by cleaning up your diet and eating certain foods, one of the best-being fish oil or oily fish. One reason fish oil helps to combat inflammation is that it tips the scale in favor of omega 3. An imbalance between omega 3 and 6 that favors omega 6 can spur inflammation. By consuming more fish oil and less omega 6 fats this ratio can be improved, therefore reducing inflammation. 

3. Fish Oil Reduces Blood Pressure 

Elevated blood pressure is another serious health condition that can lead to heart disease and other issues.

It has been found that fish oil can help reduce plaque buildup and thin the blood, which aids in blood flow around the body and reduces blood pressure.

Recently, two meta-analyses were carried out looking at the effects of fish oil on blood pressure. Both researchers found that fish oil supplementation significantly reduced blood pressure, on average by 3-4mm Hg.

Interestingly, fish oil’s effects on blood pressure seem to be even more beneficial when patients have high blood pressure, resulting in levels reduced by up to 6-8 mm Hg.

4. Fish Oil and Brain Health

The DHA found in omega 3 is also extremely beneficial for brain development in children, brain health in adults, and reducing cognitive decline or brain disease in the elderly.

DHA is beneficial for brain health primarily due to its molecular makeup. DHA has a hydrophobic membrane core which provides it with a high degree of flexibility when interacting with other membrane proteins. Thus, this amplified flexibility increases the speed of signal transduction, neurotransmission, and even the formation of new lipids.

One study investigated the effects of DHA supplementation during pregnancy. These researchers found that the women who supplemented with DHA during pregnancy had babies who demonstrated increased neural and visual development at birth. 

5. Fish Oil and Blood Sugar Levels

Controlling and optimizing blood sugar and glucose levels is another fundamental part of health.

When blood sugar levels are abnormal or out of range, it can lead to fat gain, cell damage, diabetes, and even death. Nowadays, a large majority of the population have chronically elevated blood sugar levels which can lead to diabetes and other serious diseases over the years. 

Fish oil can help by improving insulin sensitivity and controlling blood sugar levels, especially with diabetes or those with obesity.

6. Fish Oil & Weight Loss

“Eating fat will make you fat” was a long-held belief the public was wrongly told. Omega 3 is a prime example of this - despite it being a fat source, fish oil has been shown to promote weight loss.

Several researchers have used omega 3 in obese patients showing it can improve markers of health and aid in weight loss as part of a calorie-restricted diet. One trial found that omega 3 supplementation increased the body’s ability to burn fat and caused around 25% greater weight loss.

7. Fish Oil & Cardiovascular Disease 

Many of the previous six benefits are all closely related to cardiovascular health and make up the key risk factors for heart disease. Specifically, cholesterol, inflammation, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels are four of the key risk factors in the development of heart disease.

As fish oil has been found to improve all of these areas, it comes as no surprise that it can significantly improve the health of your heart and reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the long term. Fish oil may be even more efficacious in those with CVD as it has been found to work better on those with high blood pressure. 

In a review of the effects of fish oil supplementation on CVD, researchers noted that men who ate at least some form of fish weekly or supplemented with fish oil had a lower CVD mortality rate. These results remain consistent among females as well; a recent study reported that the risk of death from CVD was 34% lower when consuming fish or fish oils at least five times a week.

8. Fish Oil & Arthritis 

Arthritis is a disorder that primarily affects the auto-immune system caused by excessive inflammation, especially in specific types such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). 

As previously mentioned, by improving the balance of omega 3 and 6 in the body, fish oil can reduce inflammation. This factor can aid in the reduction of symptoms and pain for patients with arthritis. 

One group of researchers conducted a double-blind cross-over study investigating the effects of fish oil supplementation on fatigue resistance and subjective pain scales in patients with RA. Results demonstrated that fish oil supplementation increased the time to fatigue by 156 minutes, and the number of tender joints reported decreased by 3.5!

Foods High In Omega 3

Along with taking fish oil and omega 3 supplements, oily fish is the best dietary source. Additionally, there are a few foods containing smaller amounts of omega 3 fats you should include in your diet. These include: 

  • Walnuts
  • Omega 3 enriched eggs
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • Anchovies

Although the recommendations are only two to three pieces of oily fish per week, evidence supports the use of daily fish oil or supplementation with omega 3. This is especially important if you are in a high-risk category for one of the health issues discussed above, or if you simply want to optimize your health.

Try eating a serving of oily fish once per day or use a high-quality fish oil supplement to meet your daily needs.

References

Morris, M. C., Sacks, F., & Rosner, B. (1993). Does fish oil lower blood pressure? A meta-analysis of controlled trials. Circulation88(2), 523-533.

Ciubotaru, I., Lee, Y. S., & Wander, R. C. (2003). Dietary fish oil decreases C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and triacylglycerol to HDL-cholesterol ratio in postmenopausal women on HRT. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 14(9), 513-521. 

Grossfield, A., Feller, S. E., & Pitman, M. C. (2006). A role for direct interactions in the modulation of rhodopsin by omega-3 polyunsaturated lipids. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 103:4888–93.

Malcolm, C. A., McCulloch, D. L., Montgomery, C., Shepherd, A., & Weaver, L. T. (2003). Maternal docosahexaenoic acid supplementation during pregnancy and visual evoked potential development in term infants: a double blind, prospective, randomised trial. Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition88(5), F383-F390.

Oliveira, J. M., & Rondó, P. H. (2011). Omega-3 fatty acids and hypertriglyceridemia in HIV-infected subjects on antiretroviral therapy: systematic review and meta-analysis. HIV clinical trials, 12(5), 268-274.

Kunesova, M., Braunerova, R., Hlavatý, P., & Tvrzicka, E. (2006). The influence of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and very low calorie diet during a short-term weight reducing regimen on weight loss and serum fatty acid composition in severely obese women. Physiological research, 55(1), 63.

Bernstein, A. M., Ding, E. L., Willett, W. C., & Rimm, E. B. (2012). A meta-analysis shows that docosahexaenoic acid from algal oil reduces serum triglycerides and increases HDL-cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in persons without coronary heart disease. The Journal of nutrition, 142(1), 99-104. 

Stillwell, W., Shaikh, S.R., Zerouga, M., Siddiqui, R., & Wassall, S.R. (2005). Doco- sahexaenoic acid affects cell signaling by altering lipid rafts. Reprod Nutr Dev. 43:559–79.

Innis, S. M. (2007). Dietary (n-3) fatty acids and brain development. The Journal of nutrition137(4), 855-859.

Rizza, S., Tesauro, M., Cardillo, C., Galli, A., Iantorno, M., Gigli, F., ... & Lauro, D. (2009). Fish oil supplementation improves endothelial function in normoglycemic offspring of patients with type 2 diabetes. Atherosclerosis, 206(2), 569-574. 

 Appel, L. J., Miller, E. R., Seidler, A. J., & Whelton, P. K. (1993). Does Supplementation of Diet With'Fish Oil'Reduce Blood Pressure?: A Meta-analysis of Controlled Clinical Trials. Archives of internal medicine153(12), 1429-1438.

Kabir, M., Skurnik, G., Naour, N., Pechtner, V., Meugnier, E., Rome, S., ... & Guerre-Millo, M. (2007). Treatment for 2 months with n− 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids reduces adiposity and some atherogenic factors but does not improve insulin sensitivity in women with type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled study. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 86(6), 1670-1679.

Kris-Etherton, P. M., Harris, W. S., & Appel, L. J. (2002). Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation106(21), 2747-2757. 

Kremer, J. M., Jubiz, W., Michalek, A., Rynes, R. I., Bartholomew, L. E., Bigaouette, J., ... & Lininger, L. (1987). Fish-Oil Fatty Acid Supplementation in Active Rheumatoid ArthritisA Double-Blinded, Controlled, Crossover Study. Annals of internal medicine106(4), 497-503.


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