Should I Be Taking Fish Oil Supplements?
If you like to read science articles and journals, you probably have come by conflicting research when it comes to fish oil and Omega-3s. The research may be confusing, but it’s important to first understand the implications of the consumption of fish oil and Omega-3s.
Let’s start from the beginning.
What are Omega-3s and What is Fish Oil?
Fish oil can be used interchangeably in some literature, but they often don’t refer to the same thing. What this means is that the term “fish oil” can be referred to as any oil that comes from a marine source. This tells us that we don’t know the source, how much of Omega-3s there are in the oil nor the breakdown of the Omega-3s (EPA and DHA.)
The group of fats known as Omega-3 fatty acids are known for the many health benefits. The sources and the ratios are controversial. The most well-known types of Omega-3s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid.) Both EPA and DHA are found in fish sources.
The other one is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and are found in plant-based sources such as nuts and seeds.
Consuming Omega-3s are important for our health but there are many of us that are not getting enough of them. This doesn’t mean that we should go straight to the fish oil capsules.
The source matters and there can be some major problems with certain types of fish oil supplements which we’ll talk about more later on. There are many high-quality sources of Omega-3s in certain foods that will give you the health benefits.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids May be Useful for:
- Alleviating inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis
- Reducing the risk for heart disease
- Decreasing the risk for osteoporosis and bone loss
- Reducing symptoms associated to diabetes
- Helping those with depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
- Improving cognitive function
- Improving your health and decreasing symptoms for those with autoimmune disease
There are two types of Omega-3s:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)- found in plant-based products: walnuts, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil, canola oil, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, tofu, and some green vegetables
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)- found in fatty fish sources: salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna.
The body can convert some ALA to DHA and EPA but it’s not very efficient. So, it is important to consume sources with DHA and EPA. These nutrients are recommended during pregnancy and nursing because certain forms of DHA are transferred across the placenta.
Why the Ratio Matters Between Omega-3s & Omega-6s
You can’t talk about Omega 3 without talking about Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega-3s are important but consuming a healthy ration between Omega-3s and Omega-6s is more important. Let’s talk about why.
Both Omega-3s and Omega-6s are considered polyunsaturated fats because they both have double bonds.
In general, we need a smaller amount of these fats than we do other fats such as monounsaturated and saturated fats. Our bodies are unable to produce polyunsaturated fats so, we need to consume them from our diet. This is why they are named “essential fatty acids.”
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in many processed foods like, vegetable oils, processed grains, and soy products. Omega-6s increase inflammation while Omega-3s held reduce inflammation. Due to Omega-6 fats being in processed foods, it’s easy to understand why most of us get more in our diets. In fact, some people can get too much through their diets.
Let’s talk about the ratio. The Ideal ratio of Omega-3s-and Omega-6s is thought to be around 1:1 and not higher than 1:4. Most people consume too much Omega6 fats compared to Omega-3 fats. This negative ratio can contribute to inflammation within the body and lead to disease.
There are two ways to change the ratio:
- Consume more Omega-3 fats
- Or decrease your intake of Omega-6 fats.
The Source Matters
Omega-3s are best obtained from the food that you eat. There has been documented research that by consuming more fish, the lower the rates of heart disease and all causes of death. The same can’t be said about fish oil supplements. There is a lot of debate between fish oil supplements and health.
- Some studies claim that fish oil can reduce heart disease and others study indicate no affect or may be harmful to the heart.
- Some studies indicate that fish oil supplements are helpful for the brain and others show a negative effect.
- Some studies show that fish oil helps improve insulin sensitivity and reduces diabetes risk. Other results no benefits over long periods.
Ratio and Source of Fish Oil
Further research will indicate that the ratio is a critical key in understanding Omega-3s. The benefits won’t just be about fish oil supplements but also decreasing the amount of Omeg-6 consumption in your diet. Try to avoid vegetable oils and margarine products at all costs. They are very high in Omega-6 fatty acids.
The Best Fish Oil? Fish!
This may come off as shocking news, but the best source of fish oil is eating fatty fish. The best Omega-3s comes from high quality sources of fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, and mackerel.
But What Are The Best Sources of DHA?
Yes, of course, you can take supplements to get your DHA. But if you prefer to get some through food sources as well, you can rely on the animal proteins below to help your body get its DHA fix.
- Wild-caught Salmon
- Wild-caught Herring
- Wild-caught Sardines
- Wild-caught Mackerel
- Wild-caught Sea Bass
- Wild-caught Shrimp
- Wild-caught Lobster
- Wild-caught Trout
- Wild-caught Oysters
- Wild-caught Tuna
- Wild-caught Tilapia
- Wild-caught Scallops
- Wild-caught Cod
- Omega-3 Eggs
- Pastured Chicken Breast
What About VEGAN SOURCES of DHA?
There are also vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These sources will require your body to convert them into DHA and the other types of fatty acids it needs in order to serve its biological purposes.
Is most often used in Korean dishes. Basically, it’s the oil pressed from the roasted seeds of the perilla plant and has an especially nutty taste.
Now, certain population studies have shown that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent heart health concerns. But, the omega-3 fatty acid in perilla oil can actually be converted through the body’s metabolic pathway.
Then it becomes DHA, and it can actually help increase the omega-3 levels in your blood cells. In some cases, this can really help prevent coronary issues and even help to decrease blood clotting.
Is a pretty good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, but it doesn’t necessarily contain DHA. It too would have to be converted. But flaxseed oil has been known to help with inflammation.
Flaxseed oil will give you a little boost of omega-3s, but only in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. It’s more of a backup than a substitute for the omega-3s in fish and fish oil because of the conversion issue.
Note: If you don’t want to buy flaxseed oil, buy flaxseed meal or ground. Our bodies can not absorb whole flaxseeds.
Microalgae/Algal Oil –
Turns out, microalgae is the only source of docosahexaenoic acid acceptable to vegans. Not only can algal oil provide DHA, but because it doesn’t come from fish, it’s a pretty good vegetarian option. Another benefit of microalgae is that there’s no risk of ocean-borne contaminants.
Should You Be Taking Fish Oil Supplements?
It’s always recommend doing your own research before taking a supplement. Fish oil is not created equal. Some contain altered forms of Omega-3s and some can actually contribute to inflammation.
There are many Omega-3 supplements that are altered in ethyl ester form. This occurs when ethanol is fused with fish oil. These types of fish oils can be difficult to digest and can easily oxidize.
The major difference is the digestive break down of these different fish oils. The natural triglyceride form of Omega-3 breaks down in your small intestine and can easily be absorbed. Fish oils that are ethyl ester form can have a much more difficult time for your body to break down and be absorbed.
The natural triglyceride form is the purist form that your body recognizes. It can be taken without food and it doesn’t oxidize or smell funky.
The Fish Oil Supplement Criteria
Searching for an Omega-3 supplement should always meet the following criteria:
- Sustainable source: anchovy or sardine
- Natural triglyceride form of Omega-3
- High dosage of DHA and EPA
- Free of heavy metals and toxins
- At least 2-grams of concentrated Omega-3s
Note: This Omega-3 supplement meets the above criteria and does not have a fishy aftertaste or fishy after burbs.
We should all know that eating fish is healthy. Studies have indicated a strong link between the consumption of fish and longer life, reducing heart disease and risks. In the light recent concerns about heavy metals toxicity and radiation, it is very important to choose high quality seafood. Sardines are a great food source of Omega-3s and are inexpensive. Do your best to skip the fish oil capsule and eat more fatty fish!
It is also important for you to consider the ration between Omega-3s and Omega-6 fatty acids. Instead of just focusing on raising up your Omega-3 consumption, pay attention to your Omega-6 consumption as well. Steer away from those processed vegetable oils and margarine.
At the end of the day, eat more high-quality fatty fish, more veggies and less processed foods with vegetable oils.
Do you take Omega-3 supplements? Have they helped? Share below your thoughts!