Nutrition Expert- Saba Shaikh, Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
• Fish oil is one of the most commonly consumed dietary supplements.
• It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for your health.
• If you don’t eat a lot of oily fish, taking a fish oil supplement could help you get enough omega-3 fatty acids.
What Is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is the fat or oil that’s extracted from fish tissue.
It usually comes from oily fish, such as herring, tuna, anchovies, and mackerel. Yet it’s sometimes produced from the livers of other fish, as is the case with cod liver oil.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating 1–2 portions of fish per week. This is because the omega-3 fatty acids in fish provide many health benefits, including protection against a number of diseases.
However, if you don’t eat 1–2 servings of fish per week, fish oil supplements can help you get enough omega-3s.
Eating fish is a better way of getting fish oil or omega 3 than taking supplements.
Around 30% of fish oil is made up of omega-3s, while the remaining 70% is made up of other fats. What’s more, fish oil usually contains some vitamin A and D.
It’s important to note that the types of omega-3s found in fish oil have greater health benefits than the omega-3s found in some plant sources.
The main omega-3s in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while the omega-3 in plant sources is mainly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Although ALA is an essential fatty acid, EPA and DHA have many more health benefits (2).
Incorporating fish-oil supplements into your diet can be a great way to get all of the heart-health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids at a low cost. Fish-oil supplements may also be good alternatives for vegetarians as well as those who are concerned about the mercury levels often found in seafood. When choosing a fish-oil supplement, make sure it contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—two essential omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked to positive effects on cardiovascular health problems. (3)
• Improves skin and hair health
The omega-3 fatty acid boosts the collagen production in our body and gives us a youthful look. It helps the cells retain their natural moisture, keeping the skin well-hydrated throughout the day. Regular consumption of fish oil or its supplements keeps acne problems at bay and ensures blemish-free skin.
there are a number of skin disorders that may benefit from fish oil supplements, including psoriasis and dermatitis (4)
• Prevents cancer
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other very important nutrients, fish oil provides a variety of health benefits, one of which is cancer prevention. Omega 3 aids in proper functioning of cells from mutating into cancerous tumours to restrain unwanted cellular growth.
• Controls cholesterol levels
Fish oil works as an anti-inflammatory agent because of its rich content of omega-3 fatty acids. This prevents inflammation of our fat tissues or fat cells which could lead to Type-II diabetes by causing insulin resistance in our body. It can increase levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. However, it does not appear to reduce levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol (5)
• Maintain eye health
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are great nourishment for our eyes. It protects us from eye disorders and also helps in avoiding the macular degeneration.
Like your brain, your eyes rely on omega-3 fats. Evidence shows that people who don’t get enough omega-3s have a greater risk of eye diseases (6)
• Helps with mental disorders
Regular consumption of fish oil reduces the risk of depression. Not only that, it also reduces aggression. The omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil ensures that the brain functions well, making it adept to deal with all kinds of mental problems. Fish oil is said to improve concentration, enhance memory, and improve the cognitive functioning of the brain. It can also cure Alzheimer’s disease.
Interestingly, research suggests that fish oil supplements can prevent the onset or improve the symptoms of some mental disorders. For example, it can reduce the chances of psychotic disorders in those who are at risk (7)
• Treatment of ADHD
ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is an issue that is commonly found in people of every age. Some of its symptoms are hyperactivity, dyslexia, emotional instability and fickleness, lack of coordination, poor attention, concentration issues and weak memory.
Given that omega-3s make up a significant proportion of the brain, getting enough of them may be important for preventing behavioral disorders in early life (8)
Fish oil supplements may improve perceived hyperactivity, inattention, impulsiveness, and aggression in children. This may benefit early life learning (9)
• Reduces high blood pressure
Loaded with omega-3, fish oil can keep blood pressure under control. The Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) in omega 3 fatty acids play a significant role in expanding the blood vessels. They make way for the smooth flow of blood through the arteries and bring the pressure down. Omega-3 fatty acids also possess anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulant properties, which in turn, keep hypertension at bay.
• Drives away depression
Omega 3 fatty acids relieve us from the feeling of sadness, anxiety, mental fatigue, stress and depression. Fish oil stabilizes the mood and makes one feel calm and composed.
Interestingly, people with major depression appear to have lower blood levels of omega-3s (10)
Studies show that fish oil and omega-3 supplements may improve symptoms of depression (11)
• Healthy and strong bones
During old age, bones can begin to lose their essential minerals, making them more likely to break. This can lead to conditions like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Calcium and vitamin D are very important for bone health, but some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can also be beneficial.
Fish oil can effectively treat osteoporosis or weak bones, a problem generally found in older adults. It helps in increasing bone density. The omega 3 fatty acid in fish oil controls the number of minerals present in the bones and their adjacent tissues and thus, makes them considerably stronger. It can also treat acute pain and morning stiffness associated with arthritis.
• Anti-inflammatory properties
Inflammation is your immune system’s way of fighting infection and treating injuries.
However, chronic inflammation is associated with serious illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, depression, and heart disease. (12) Reducing inflammation can help treat symptoms of these diseases.
Fish oil easily brings down inflammation in our blood and tissues. Fish oil, due to the omega 3 fatty acids, effectively treats gastrointestinal disorders, short bowel syndrome and chronic inflammatory diseases!
EPA and DHA dosage recommendations vary depending on your age and health.
WHO recommends a daily intake of 0.2–0.5 grams (200–500 mg) of combined EPA and DHA. However, it may be necessary to increase the dosage if you are pregnant, nursing, or at risk of heart disease (13).
Choose a fish oil supplement that provides at least 0.3 grams (300 mg) of EPA and DHA per serving. (14)