Fish oil can be the single best supplement to include in your routine, or it can be the worst. In this article, we will explore the many benefits you can reap from choosing the right fish oil supplement, and also which products to stay away from, and why.
First and foremost, let’s take a look at why fish oil is essential to human health. Hint: it has to do with your old anti-inflammatory friend, omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega 3 fatty acids are incredibly important for various reasons, and we must get them from our diet. These are polyunsaturated fatty acids, and their major players include ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). While ALA is found in plants (like flax seeds, for example), DHA and EPA are almost exclusively obtained from animal products, especially from wild caught fish.
If you are one of the lucky ones that include wild caught, fatty fish in your diet at least three times per week, you might be one of the few that doesn’t need to supplement with omega 3 fatty acids. For the majority of people, this is a real challenge, which is why understanding the many factors that go into choosing the proper fish oil supplement becomes important.
Unfortunately, certain types of fish oil might actually do more harm than good. Fortunately, omega 3 fatty acids have been extensively researched, so there is no lack of scientifically based studies to truly understand which types are best.
Top Benefits of Supplementing with Fish Oil
Reduction of anxiety, depression and mood disorders
In our modern society, mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are shockingly common, and omega 3 fatty acids can definitely help. In fact, studies (1) have shown that people with depression who begin supplementing with omega 3’s show significant improvement. This also works in the case of supplementing for prevention.
EPA is the specific fatty acid thought to be most essential for prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety, and this must be obtained through fatty fish consumption or supplementation. One study (2) even found EPA supplementation to be more effective than Prozac.
Prevention of heart disease
Various studies (3) have demonstrated that societies across the globe that consume high amounts of wild, fatty fish show decreased rates of heart disease. Omega 3 fatty acids work to lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, raise our HDL (“good”) cholesterol, reduce the chance of blood clots, and work as a potent anti-inflammatory agent.
Critical for cognitive development and brain health in babies of pregnant women
There is a lot to think about when you are pregnant, but this one should top your list. Studies (4) show that infants and babies in utero must get enough omega 3 fatty acids from their mother in order for optimal brain development. 40% of the fatty acids making up the brain come from DHA, which is also critical for vision and eye development. You might be surprised to know that omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy is linked to positive outcomes later in life, such as better social skills, increased intelligence and fewer behavioral issues. Not enough DHA in utero is linked to impaired social and communication abilities and other health problems.
Omega 3 fatty acids are perhaps best known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and for good reason. Really, there are few foods or supplements that beat omega 3’s in their ability to calm systemic inflammation, which is at the base of preventing and treating many common diseases and conditions. Chronic inflammation can lead to diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more.
Studies (5) have shown that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation might lessen the risk of developing colon cancer by up to 55%, as well as other types of cancer.
Food sources of omega 3 fatty acids
Before looking at supplementation, know that the best food sources of omega 3’s include wild caught salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel and herring. Again, you’ll want to eat at least 3, 4-6 oz. servings per week.
How to choose the best fish oil supplement
Consider the following:
- Choose a brand that specifically says it contains at least 1,000 mg. of omega 3 fatty acids, and be sure that the EPA and DHA levels do not exceed 320 mg. per serving.
- Check to see that the brand you choose contains both EPA and DHA.
- Ideally, the product you purchase will be stamped with the GOED standard for purity, or (2nd best) will be “third party tested.” All of this information should be indicated on the label.
- Free Fatty Acids (FFA’s) are best absorbed by the body, so look for this on the label.
- Be absolutely sure you aren’t buying a rancid product. Most fish oils will come in a dark, glass bottle and will be kept in the refrigerator. If not, smell your product first, as it definitely should not have an extremely foul, strong smell. Also, check the expiration date.
One of my favorite products is by Green Pastures, especially their fermented cod liver oil.
Many fish oil products are of very low quality and/or are rancid even before hitting the shelves. High quality fish oils can provide major health benefits, so choose wisely and follow the guidelines discussed here.
What has your experience been with fish oil and/or omega 3 fatty acid supplementation? Any favorite brands or further questions?