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Did you know...According to a recent study at Harvard University – omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is officially one of the top 10 causes of death in America.
What Is Fish Oil?
As obvious as it sounds, fish oil is, well, oil from fish.
It’s rich in two specific groups of omega-3 fatty acids known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA, along with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in things like flax and walnuts, fall under the subheading of omega-3 fatty acids.
EPA and DHA are often cited as being the beneficial components of fish oil. EPA and DHA actually originate in algae, which is the base of the food chain for fish. Fish consume these algae and thus concentrate high amounts of the beneficial fats.
Do I Have An Omega-3 Deficiency?
Dr. Andrew Weil Talks About The Importance Of Omega-3
Many of Americans’ health problems can be traced back to having an imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats aren’t necessarily bad for you but if they are consumed in large amounts without omega-3’s they cause inflammation which leads to chronic illness.
Today, the average american has a 20:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, when a healthy ratio is more ideally around 2:1. This shows just how deficient most of us are and why supplementing with fish oil is so beneficial.
It’s easy for us to get omega-6 fatty acids. These are found in plant oils, for instance, and factory-raised animals (which are fed a lot of corn and soy) will usually have a lot of omega-6 too. The biggest cause of omega-3 deficiency is the over consumption of fried foods, fast foods and boxed foods that contain vegetables oils like soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and corn oil.
But it’s hard for people in Western countries to get omega-3 fats from dietary sources. We eat a lot more processed foods and a lot less wild game and plants than our ancestors did. And we don’t usually eat things like snails and insects, which are also high in omega-3s, although many folks worldwide still eat these as part of traditional diets. We rely heavily now on omega-6 vegetable oils.
Because omega-3s and omega-6s compete with each other for space in cell membranes and the attention of enzymes, the ratio matters more than the absolute amount consumed of either fat.
If you have an omega-3/6 imbalance it can lead to the following health conditions:
- Autoimmune disease
- Heart disease
- Type II diabetes
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Metabolic syndrome
- Macular degeneration
It’s also important to know that even though certain other foods like flaxseeds and grass-fed beef contain omega-3 fats, those omega’s are ALA and not EPA/DHA like what is found in fish oil. According to the medical research there are far more health benefits in fish oil (EPA/DHA) than flax oil (ALA) for most people.
What Benefits Can I Expect From Taking Fish Oil
1. ADHD – The University of South Australia has determined that a combination of fish oil and evening primrose oil capsules can help reduce common symptoms of ADHD: inattention, hyperactivity, restlessness and impulsive behavior. According to the researchers, “Fish oil is believed to work via its effects on brain function. 60% of the brain is composed of fats, with the most important being polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These must be obtained through diet and can be found in dark leafy vegetables, walnuts, linseeds and oily fish.”
2. Anxiety – The European Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study earlier this year showing that fish oil reversed all anxiety-like and depression-like behavior changes induced in rats. This is an interesting study because it stresses the importance of supplementing with fish oil at “critical periods of brain development,” which is why we should give it to our kids from early on to help them so that they will not develop anxiety or depression later in life!
3. Arthritis – An 18-month long study was published this year, which evaluated how borage seed oil – rich in GLA – and fish oil rich fared up against each other in treating patients with rheumatoid arthritis. It was discovered that all three groups (1 taking fish oil, 1 taking borage seed, and 1 taking a combination of the two) “exhibited significant reductions” in disease activity and no therapy outperformed the others. This is critical to emphasize because taking too many supplements are simply a waste of money.
4. Alzheimer’s Disease – For several years now, the fish oil and Alzheimer’s Disease connection has been studied with consistent results: the essential fatty acids vital for brain function that are found in fish oil can not only slow cognitive decline, it can help prevent bran atrophy in older adults.
5. Cancer – Fish oil has been found to help kill various cancers including colon, prostate and breast. Not only has research proven that it makes conventional cancer drugs more effective, it’s also an effective standalone therapy!
According to Taiwanese investigators this past June, “Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the major n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in fish oil that decrease the risk of prostate cancer.” Also in June, Czech researchers published a study explaining that DHA not only kills colon cancer as a standalone treatment, but also enhances current drug therapies that utilize TRAIL (tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis inducing ligand)!
And still again in June, a group out of India published a study in Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology that, “Fish oil rich in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids has been preferred to chemosensitize tumor cells to anti-cancer drugs.” It was even revealed that fish oil improved “hematologic depression, digestion, liver and kidney toxicity!”
6. Depression – We’ve already seen that fish oil can help with depression-like symptoms in rats, but what about people? This past June, the journal Nutritional Neuroscience published a study evaluating the effects of fish oil supplementation on prefrontal metabolite concentrations in adolescents with major depressive disorder. There was a 40% decrease in major depression disorder symptoms in addition to marked improvements in amino acid and nutrition content in the brain; specifically, the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
7. Diabetes – This year, Brain Research published some research that show how far-reaching fish oil can be for people with diabetes. In addition to learning that fish oil helps reduce the risk of diabetics from developing cognitive deficit because it protects the hippocampus cells from destroying. The study also showed that fish oil could help reverse one of the root causes of type II diabetes, oxidative stress.
8. Eye Disorders – Fish oil has been shown to reverse dry eye, age-related eye disorders like cataracts. This past March, French researchers evaluated 290 patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and they discovered that dietary oil fish and seafood intake were significantly lower in AMD patients. Due to the high EPA and DHA levels, it was concluded that people at risk for neovascular AMD should take fish oil supplements.
9. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) – According to the Cardiovascular Research Institute in Maastricht in Netherlands, “Epidemiological studies showed that replacing fat by carbohydrate may even be worse and that various polyunsaturated fatty acids (FA) have beneficial rather than detrimental effects on CVD outcome.” This includes, they continue, fish-oil fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties, which can help prevent and reverse a plethora of cardiovascular diseases.
10. Immune Compromise – A recent study has shown that when the antioxidant astaxanthin is combined with fish oil, the immune boosting power is multiplied.
What To Look For In A Fish Oil Supplement
Aim for 3-9 daily grams of total fish oil (about 1-3 grams of EPA + DHA) per day from a supplement company that doesn’t contribute directly to the depletion of fish (e.g., they use primarily fish discards).
Look for small-fish-based formulations (e.g. herring, mackerel). Small fish are lower on the food chain and less likely to accumulate environmental toxins.
Avoid cod liver oil.
Avoid trans fats; they can interfere with EPA & DHA in the body.
If you find yourself using higher amounts of corn, cottonseed, and sunflower oil (omega-6 rich vegetable oils), aim to use fewer of those, which will negatively alter your fatty acid ratio.
The amount of DHA in a woman’s diet determines the amount of DHA in her breast milk.
Omega-3 fats are not typically used in processed foods because of their tendency to oxidize.
NIH researchers have said that the billions we spend on anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen is money spent to undo the effects of too much omega-6 fat in the diet.
It’s hypothesized that populations may drift toward a lower omega-3 intake because a faster metabolism (from high omega-3 intake) increases the need for food and the possibility of hunger.
Fish oil seems to be safe (except for those on blood thinning medications).