The Benefits of Fish Oil
comes to nutrition and our diet, there are good fats and there are bad fats.
Artificially produced trans-fatty acids are bad in any amount and
saturated fats from animal products should be kept to a minimum. The best fats
are those that contain the essential fatty acids so named because we need
them to live. Essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated and grouped into two
families, the omega-6 EFAs and the omega-3 EFAs.
Minor differences in the
makeup up the two groups make both the EFA families act very differently in the
body. While the metabolic products of omega-6 acids promote inflammation, blood
clotting, and tumor growth, the omega-3 acids act entirely opposite. Although we
do need both omega-3s and omega-6s it is becoming increasingly clear that, an
excess of omega-6 fatty acids can have grim consequences. Many scientists
believe that a major reason for the high incidence of heart disease,
hypertension, diabetes, obesity, premature aging, and some forms of cancer is
the profound imbalance between our intake of high amounts of omega-6 and lower
amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Sources and Recommended
The main sources of omega-6 fatty acids are vegetable oils such as corn oil and
soy oil that contain a high proportion of linoleic acid. Omega-3 acids are found
in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and marine plankton and fatty fish. The main
component of flaxseed and walnut oils is alpha-linolenic acid while the
predominant fatty acids found in fatty fish and fish oils are eicosapentaenoic
acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The most beneficial and active of
these fatty acids are EPA and DHA.
Recent research has
established that consuming fish oils (EPA and DHA) play a crucial role in the
prevention and even the treatment of numerous diseases and conditions such as
atherosclerosis, heart attack, depression, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis,
diabetes, ulcerative colitis, and Raynaud's disease.
Recognizing the benefits of
EPA and DHA and the serious consequences of a deficiency in our diets, the US
National Institutes of Health recently published Recommended Daily Intakes of
fatty acids. They recommend a total daily intake of 650 mg of EPA and DHA, 2.22
g/day of alpha-linolenic acid and 4.44 g/day of linoleic acid. Saturated fat
intake should not exceed 8 per cent of total calorie intake or about 18 g/day.
Fish Oil Good For Our
The human brain is one of the largest "consumers" of DHA. According to
researchers, a normal adult human brain contains more than 20 grams of DHA. Low
DHA levels have been linked to low brain serotonin levels, which are connected
to an increased tendency to depression, suicide, and violence. A high intake of
fish has been linked to a significant decrease in age-related memory loss and
cognitive function impairment and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's
disease. Additionally, several studies have established a clear association
between low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and depression.
An adequate intake of DHA
and EPA is particularly important during pregnancy and lactation. During this
time, the mother must supply all the baby's needs for DHA and EPA because it is
unable to synthesize these essential fatty acids itself. There is some evidence
that an insufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids may increase the risk of
premature birth and an abnormally low birth weight.
The constant drain on a
mother's DHA reserves can easily lead to a deficiency and some research has
concluded that preeclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure) and
postpartum depression could be linked to a DHA deficiency.
Researchers have found that
children who regularly eat fresh, oily fish have a four times lower risk of
developing asthma than do children who rarely eat such fish. Other research has
found fish oil to be helpful for treatment of other lung diseases such as cystic
fibrosis and emphysema.
Fish Oil and the Heart
A vast amount of medical literature demonstrates that fish oils prevent and may
help to ameliorate or reverse atherosclerosis, angina, heart attack, congestive
heart failure, arrhythmias, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Fish oils
have also demonstrated an ability to help maintain the elasticity of artery
walls, prevent blood clotting, reduce blood pressure and stabilize heart rhythm.
Various studies have
concluded that fish oil supplementation may help prevent arrhythmias and sudden
cardiac death in healthy men. Another study of heart attack survivors found that
patients supplementing with fish oils markedly reduced their risk of another
heart attack, a stroke or death. Other researchers found that fish oil
supplementation for 2 years caused regression of atherosclerotic deposits.
Still other researchers have
found that supplementing with as little as 2 grams/day of fish oil (410 mg of
EPA plus 285 mg of DHA) can lower diastolic pressure by 4.4 mm Hg and systolic
pressure by 6.5 mm Hg in people with elevated blood pressure. These reductions
were enough to have patients avoid taking drugs in some cases of borderline
hypertension, especially when combined with a program of salt restriction.
Reduces Pain and Helps
Fish oils have been shown to be particularly effective in reducing inflammation
and can be of great benefit to people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or
ulcerative colitis. Additionally, it is known that patients with ulcerative
colitis have abnormally low blood levels of EPA. Clinical trials have shown that
supplementation with fish oil (2.7 grams of EPA and 1.8 grams of DHA daily) can
reduce the severity of the deficiency by more than 50% and enable many patients
to discontinue anti-inflammatory medication and steroids, as well as
cardiosteroids such as prednisone.
There is now also
considerable evidence that fish oil consumption can delay or reduce tumor
development in breast cancer. Studies have also shown that a high blood level of
omega-3 fatty acids combined with a low level of omega-6 acids reduces the risk
of developing breast cancer.
Safe Fish Oil Supplements
That Are Easily Available
The processing and packaging of fish oil is important in helping determine its
quality. Low quality oils may be quite unstable and contain significant amounts
of mercury, cadmium, pesticides, and other undesirable trace components. High
quality oils are stabilized with adequate amounts of vitamin E and are packaged
in individual foil pouches or other packaging resistant to light and oxygen.
Recent research indicates emulsified fish oils are much better absorbed than the
straight oils in gelatin capsules.
Beware!! Cod liver oils and
fish oils are not the same. Cod liver oil is extracted from cod liver and
is an excellent source of vitamins A and D. Fish oils are extracted from the
flesh of fatty fish like salmon and herring and are good sources of EPA and DHA.
Fish oils contain very little vitamin A and D, but cod liver oil does contain
EPA and DHA. However, you would probably exceed the recommended daily intake of
vitamins A and D if you were to try to obtain therapeutic amounts of EPA and DHA
from cod liver oil. Of important note, research has shown that fish oil
supplementation does lower blood concentrations of vitamin E, so it is a good
idea to take extra vitamin E when adding fish oils to your diet.