No matter what your health goal is, fish oil is one such dietary supplement which everyone can benefit from. Whether you are trying to reduce cholesterol, improve your heart health, maintain strong bones or aiming for weight loss – fish oil can help you achieve your health target. Research conducted at Harvard University shows that omega-3 deficiency is one of the main causes of death in America that claims up to 96000 lives each year.
Most of the health benefits of fish oil can be attributed to its omega-3 fatty acids content – one of the essential fatty acids that can’t be produced by the human body. The main omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are long chain omega-3s that slow down the inflammatory process that leads to chronic conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, ADHD, etc.
Health Benefits of Fish Oil
1. Benefits for the Heart
a. Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease
Epidemiological studies conducted at the Cardiovascular Research Institute in Maastricht in Netherlands reveal that various polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids have beneficial effects on the outcome of cardiovascular disease. Studies also show that the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil improve survival rates in heart attack victims.
The fatty acids present in fish oil prevents blood from clotting easily and its anti-inflammatory properties prevent and reverse inflammation of the arteries and valves, which in turn help to avoid a number of cardiovascular diseases.
b. Improve Heart Health
Fish oil helps to control a number of risk factors that are directly associated with heart disease –
- Cholesterol Levels – EPA and DHA present in fish oil reduces the level of harmful LDL cholesterol while increasing the level of healthy HDL cholesterol simultaneously.
- Triglycerides – Fish oil also has the capacity to lower the total level of triglycerides by approximately 15 to 30%.
- Blood Pressure – Even small doses of fish oil can help to lower blood pressure in people with moderate to very high blood pressure.
- Plaques – The anti-clotting property of fish also prevents plaque formation (atherosclerosis) in the arteries and reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Fatal arrhythmias – Arrhythmia is improper beating of the heart. It may be irregular heart beat or too fast or too slow heart beat. Fish oil helps to regularize heart rhythm and reduce the risk of heart attack.
c. Protects the Heart after Cardiac Procedures and Surgeries
People who already have had heart surgeries and procedures might also lower their risk of future complications by taking a fish oil supplement.
Fish oil prevents re-blockage of the blood vessels unblocked through angioplasty. It lowers the rate of blood vessel re-blockage by almost 45% when it is administered before and after the angioplasty procedure.
Fish oil also prevents re-closing of coronary artery bypass grafts after a coronary artery bypass surgery.
Taking fish oil also lowers long-term rise in blood pressure after heart transplantation.
2. Helps to Treat Certain Mental Disorders
The human brain comprises of 60% fat and it requires fats for normal functioning. Omega-3 fatty acids not only prevent inflammation and damage of the brain cells, but also protect against brain atrophy.
a. ADHD(Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
ADHD is a childhood brain disorder in which the child suffers from hyperactivity, restlessness and inability to focus. Administering even minimal amounts of omega-3 fatty acids can help to improve the symptoms of ADHD such as aggressiveness, restlessness and improved academic performance.
b. Alzheimer’s Disease
A study published in the FASEB Journal recorded the effects of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant supplementation for 4 to 17 months and it was seen that omega-3 fatty acids slow down the onset of age related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. The essential fatty acids present in fish oil support normal brain function and protect the brain cells against oxidative stress.
c. Anxiety and Depression
A study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience in 2013 revealed that fish oil reversed anxiety and depression-like behaviours induced in rats. Both anxiety and depression increases the level of neuro-inflammation in the brain which in turn disrupts the signal between the nerves. EPA is the primary anti-inflammatory oemga-3 fatty acid for the brain that helps to keep neuro-inflammation under control and helps to reduce anxiety and depression.
d. Bipolar Disorder
Combining fish oil with conventional treatment for bipolar disorder can help to reduce the depressive symptoms. Researchers believe that omega-3 fatty acids support the brain cell membranes and make it easier for the cells to send and receive signals which in turn may reduce the depressive symptoms.
3. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Taking a fish oil supplement in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs can help to improve the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Administering fish oil intravenously can help to relieve swollen and tender joints in people with Rheumatoid Arthritis. A study showed that omega-3 fatty acids supplements we just as effective as NSAIDs(Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in reducing arthritis pain and omega-3 fatty acids are undoubtedly a safer alternative to NSAIDs.
4. Improve Bone Health and Treat Osteoporosis
Some studies show that omega-3 fatty acids increase the level of calcium in the body, slow down the rate of bone loss and help to improve bone strength and density. Other studies show that people who are deficient in essential fatty acids have higher level of bone loss compared to those with normal levels of essential fatty acids. The long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oil improve calcium balance and bone density in menopausal women and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Fish oil helps to prevent a number of damaging effects of diabetes. It reduces the risk of developing cognitive deficit in diabetics by protecting the hippocampus cells from inflammation. Fish oil also reduces the level of oxidative stress associated with diabetes and reduces the risk of microvascular and cardiovascular complications. Omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil lower the level of triglycerides and apoproteins and raise the level of HDL in diabetic patients.
6. Support Eye Health and Protect Vision
Fish oil is effective in reversing age-related eye disorders such as macular degeneration. French researchers conducted a study on 290 patients with age-related macular degeneration and saw that the consumption of fish oil and seafood was significantly lower in the age-related macular degeneration patients. Taking a fish oil supplement may not only help to prevent age related macular degeneration, but also reduce the risk of cataracts.
7. Skin Disorders
Fish oil supplies healthy fats to the skin and also improves the effectiveness of the fat-soluble vitamins that help to maintain smooth and supple texture of the skin and prevent wrinkles and dryness. It also slows down the aging process of the skin. Deficiency of EPA and DHA in the body leads to various skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, dandruff and age spots. Lack of essential fatty acids in the skin leads to excessive moisture loss, but taking a fish oil supplement can help to restore moisture to the skin and improve the symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, etc. Fish oil also helps to reduce inflammation associated with eczema.
Studies show that fish oil is effective in preventing and destroying various cancers – colon cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer. Research also proves that fish oil improve the effectiveness of conventional cancer drugs. A review published in 2013 looked at the link between omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and prostate cancer prevention. It was seen that omega-3 fatty acids had potent antiproliferative effects, which means these fatty acids can inhibit the growth of cancer cells. In addition, the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the immune system enhance the cancer fighting capacity of the body.
a) Colon Cancer – Animal and lab studies have proved that omega-3 fatty acids prevent worsening of colon cancer by slowing down the progression of the cancer and it is especially effective in people with early stages of the cancer.
b) Breast Cancer – Women who consume omega-3 rich foods or take a fish oil supplement are less likely to develop breast cancer. A review conducted in 2014 evaluated the findings of studies on omega-3 and its relation in prevention and treatment of breast cancer. It was seen that EPA, DHA and ALA, all three types of omega-3 fatty acids have the capacity to inhibit the development of breast tumor.
c) Prostate Cancer – Studies conducted on groups of men suggest that a low-fat diet in combination with omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil may prevent the development of prostate cancer.
9. Fertility and Pregnancy
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are one of the most important supplements for fertility and pregnancy. Fish oil reduces inflammation, balances the female hormones and help to regulate the menstrual cycle. It also helps to treat conditions such as endometriosis and poly cystic ovarian syndrome. Fish oil is also beneficial throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding. EPA and DHA present in fish oil supports the development of fetal brain, nervous system, eyes and immune function. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce the risk of premature delivery and support healthy labor.
10. Weight Loss
A study conducted by a team of Australian researchers revealed that regular intake of fish oil supplements in combination with exercise can help to reduce body fat, improve body composition and boost metabolic health. The group which was administered fish oil supplement has considerably lower level of triglycerides, increased level of HDL cholesterol and better blood flow. Another study in which volunteers substituted other fats such as butter and cream with fish oil found that dietary consumption of fish oil reduced body fat and stimulated the utilisation of fatty acids in the body.
Things to Know about Fish Oil
Sources of Fish Oil – Fish oil can be obtained from the consumption of cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring. Fish oil can also be derived from the livers of cod. Fish oil is also available in the form of supplements.
How to take – The dose of fish oil supplements depends on the amount of EPA and DHA per capsule and not on the total amount of fish oil per capsule. The amount of EPA and DHA vary in supplements but a standard amount is 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA per capsule.
Dosage for Adults and Children – Adults should not take more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids from capsules per day without the supervision of a physician. There is no established dose of omega-3 fatty acids from children. Although, omega-3 fatty acids are common in health drinks but children should not consume fish oil supplements without the supervision of a physician.
Precautions –Increased risk of bleeding – People with bleeding disorder or those taking any blood-thinning medications should take fish oil supplements only after consulting a doctor because omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil increase the risk of bleeding.
Digestive Disorders – Fish oil can cause diarrhoea, gas, bloating and belching in some people.
Omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil is an essential nutrient for our health and it becomes more so because our bodies can’t produce it on its own. But when it comes to choosing a fish oil supplement, it is important to check its quality and safety because fish oil supplements often contain mercury, other heavy metals and toxins. Purchasing supplements from reputable brands that conduct tests for assessing safety and quality of the product can ensure that you are getting a pure and safe product.