Itís no fish tale, Catch a net full of benefits from omega-3s
Fish oil has quickly become one of the most common supplements purchased by consumers and for good reason. Research studies have shown it to be beneficial for numerous conditions, and especially related to the heart.
Despite its benefits, there are problems with fish oils of which you need to be aware. It is not just a matter of going into a store and buying whatís on the shelf. You may not be getting what you think you are.
Omega fatty acids: It can be confusing
The key ingredients of fish oil are called omega-3 fatty acids (called omega-3ís for short). However, you should realize that there are several types of omega-3ís, and there are also other fatty acids, such as omega-6ís, all of which can have some benefits and are commonly purchased by consumers. What to take can be confusing, so let me clarify.
First, there are two main omega-3ís in fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Another omega-3 is alpha-linoleic acid, which is found primarily in plant oils, such as flaxseed. What you need to know is that omega-3ís from fish oil are much more potent than omega-3ís from plants.
Second, omega-6 fatty acids, found in evening primrose oil and borage oil, are often taken by consumers along with omega-3ís. What you need to know is that omega-6ís and omega-3ís compete with each other for binding sites in the body. Taking fish oil containing these herbs, or combination products with both omega-3ís and omega-6ís, can often negate each othersí benefits, so you should avoid taking them together.
Fast facts on fish Oil
HEART BENEFITS OF FISH OIL
- Heart disease prevention (primary prevention)
- Decreased mortality from heart disease (secondary prevention)
- Angioplasty: reduces re-clogging
- Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery: reduces re-clogging
- Diabetes: prevents diabetic-related heart disease
- Heart failure
- Heart transplantation
How much is enough?
- Fish oils are usually made from mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, cod liver, whale blubber, seal blubber, or krill.
- Fish oils usually contain small amounts of vitamin E to prevent spoilage.
- Fish oils may be combined with calcium, iron, or vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, or D.
- Fish oils many be combined with antioxidants or contain natural antioxidants.
A major problem consumers have is to know how much fish oil is needed to obtain the maximum benefits. Many manufacturers recommend taking 1000 mg (1 gram) total of DHA plus EPA daily, but all studies showing the benefits of fish oil utilize 3-4 grams per day. So, if you are only taking one capsule a day of regular fish oil (which usually equates to one gram or less), you will obtain some benefit, but not the maximum.
Side effects of fish oil: What is too much?
Taking too little is one problem, but taking too much is another. If you take the recommended 3-4 grams per day, side effects are uncommon. Even so, you still may have a fishy aftertaste or ďfish burp,Ē halitosis, heartburn, nausea, loose stools, or rash. However, you can decrease these side effects by taking the fish oil with meals or freezing them.
A more serious issue is that doses greater than 3-4 grams can increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you take blood thinners or aspirin. Some fish oil preparations (like cod liver oil) contain large amounts of vitamin A and vitamin D, which can cause toxicities if taken in large amounts or for a long time. Large doses can also adversely affect immune function and can increase LDL cholesterol (the ďbadĒ cholesterol) in some people. This latter effect can be negated by taking garlic supplements.
The bottom line is that taking 3-4 grams per day will provide you the maximum benefits; taking more than that will not provide any additional benefit but may cause serious side effects.
Getting Your Omega-3íS: Diet Vs Supplements
SOME CONDITIONS BENEFITED BY FISH OIL
- Age-related eye problems
- Bipolar disorder (depressive type)
- Cachexia in cancer
- Diabetic kidney disease
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Reduces risk of stroke
- Asthma in children
- Painful menstrual periods
- High Blood Pressure
- Obesity (Helps lose weight)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
What is bestÖgetting your omega-3ís from diet or from supplements? The human body cannot produce omega-3ís, so you must get them from outside sources. But what is best...getting them from diet or from suppliments? To increase the amount of omega-3ís in the diet, authorities recommend eating cold-water fish at least twice a week. Although I do recommend eating fish, an average fish meal provides only 1 gram of DHA/EPA per 3.5 ounces of fish, so two fish meals per week does not come close to the 3-4 grams per day recommended by research. In addition, fish can contain many impurities, including mercury, whereas these toxic chemicals are usually eliminated in the processing of most fish oil supplements.
Buying fish oil: Beware the pitfalls
Most consumers do not realize that most fish oils deteriorate rapidly, usually within three months. The problem is that fish oil is so unstable, it begins to oxidize as soon as it is extracted from fish and exposed to air, which is usually long before it is placed into a capsule. The more it is oxidized, the less effective it becomes. If the fish oil you buy has been on the shelf for a while, it may have already lost its potency. If you buy large quantities of fish oil capsules, the benefits will quickly diminish and may even disappear before you finish the bottle.
There are numerous fish oils on the market, and it is difficult to know which one to buy. As a rule, you get what you pay for: The cheaper fish oils usually deteriorate quicker and are not as high quality. However, some over-the-counter fish oils can be just as beneficial as the more expensive fish oils sold by pharmaceutical companies. You may also pay more if the fish oil is combined with other vitamins and minerals (See Fast facts on fish oil).
One beneficial oil is Krill. This oil is more expensive than regular fish oils but has the advantage of being shelf stable for two years. It also contains the natural antioxidants vitamins E and A, astaxanthin and canthaxanthin. In addition, Krill oil is more potent than regular fish oil in its effects, so you only need to take one or two capsules a day rather than three or more.
Should you take fish oil?
So, who should take fish oil? You should definitely take it if you have heart disease or even a risk for heart disease. You should take it if you have one of the medical conditions as listed above. Overall, however, it has benefits for most people, even if healthy, and can even be taken by children. I recommend it for most people.
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"Itís no fish tale, Catch a net full of benefits from omega-3s"
Dr. Altshuler graduated magna cum laude from Duke University in 1972, and received his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine in 1976. A board certified Internist since 1979, he founded the Balanced Healing Medical Center,...