Fish Oil supplements are gaining popularity as a health boosting supplement. There are various scientific trials going on which prove or disprove the effectiveness of this supplement. Lets do a quick overview.
What is fish oil?
Fish oils are basically oils which are extracted (taken out) from the tissues of fatty or oily fish. Examples of such fish from which fish oils are extracted are trout, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines and salmon. They provide about 1 gm of omega-3 fatty acids in about 3.5 ounces of fish.
There is another type of fish called White fish which also has oil in it but the amount foil in white fish is much lower than that in oily fish. This is why, oily fish is preferred for extraction of oil.
Why is Fish Oil healthy?
Fish oil is considered to be healthy because of its two main ingredients: DHA – Docosahexanoic acid and EPA Eicosapentanoic acid. These are types of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are “essential fatty acids” which means that they are very important for the body but are not produced inside the body. Hence, it is “essential” to take it through our diet or through supplements.
What are the Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
The best way to get omega-3 fatty acids through diet is eating foods which are rich sources of this essential fatty acid. Vegetarians should eat more of walnuts, olive oil, soya beans, navy beans, kidney beans edible seeds like pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.
For non-vegetarians, eating fish is a great way to boost your omega-3 intake. However, omega-3 is easily damaged by exposure to oxygen, light and heat. So, any type of cooking, even baking or broiling will cause loss of this fatty acid but the highest loss is seen when fish or olive oil is used for frying. So if you want to get the best benefit from fishes or olive oil in terms of omega-3 fatty acids, make sure you don’t cook it a lot. This way you will be able to preserve the fatty acids in it.
Benefits of Fish Oil.
These Omega-3 fatty acids are known to help in:
At the same time, a high dose or intake of fish oils is harmful and may cause:
- Improving cholesterol levels
- Lowering level of Triglycerides (important for heart health)
- Lowering the risk of heart problems including heart attacks and stroke
- Preventing and Treating Cancer
- Alleviating symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Fighting depression and mood disorders.
- Treating ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Reducing inflammatory response of the body (which is a response of body to injury, infection etc.)
- Increased risk of bleeding
- Higher LDL-Cholesterol (bad type of cholesterol)
- Irregularities in blood sugar in body
- May affect heart rate in people who have had a heart transplant
- Some fishes may cause mercury poisoning
How much Fish Oil Should be consumed?
Experts say Fish Oil dosage depends on why he/she is taking it. The table below lists how much Fish Oil should be consumed for managing which health condition:
Health Condition Optimal Fish oil consumption per day High Triglyceride Level 1 – 4 gms High Blood Pressure 4 gms Atrial Fibrillation* Tuna or baked or broiled fish at least once a week. In people who are 65 years or older Risk of death in patients with heart problems Fish Oil which gives 0.3 - 6 gms of EPA and 0.6 – 3.7 gms of DHA For preventing or reversing the hardening of arteries 6 gms for first three months,3 gms after that Depression (in people currently taking anti-depressants) 9.6 gm Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 400 mg
Common health problems are listed in this table. Apart from these, fish oil helps in management of many other health conditions also. For basic prevention of health issues (not any particular health problem), a dose of 250 mg of EPA + DHA or above seems helpful. The American Heart Institute says that everyone (adults) should take about 1 gm of EPA + DHA
It should also be kept in mind that these are only guidelines and actual dosage of supplementation should be decided only after proper discussion and consultation with your doctor. This is also important since a lot of drugs may interfere with the action of fish oil supplements.
Conditions where fish oil needs to be consumed with caution:
- People who are allergic to sea food should avoid fish oil.
- Those who are taking birth control pills might not get the cholesterol lowering effects of fish oil as birth control pills are known to hamper the triglyceride lowering effect of fish oil.
- Using fish oil with antihypertensive drugs (drugs that lower blood pressure), might enhance the effect of these drugs and may lower the blood pressure too much.
- Fish oil should be avoided by people who are taking anticoagulant / antiplatelet drugs i.e. drugs which slow blood clotting as it may cause bleeding.