Fish oil and omega-3 supplements

The benefits and risks of taking fish oil supplements

Research has been performed for many decades regarding the benefits of fish oil, specifically omega-3 fatty acids. There are new studies being published on a regular basis, some talking about the extraordinary effects of eating more fish or taking fish oil supplements and some studies say it doesn’t help at all. What we do know, is that omega-3 fatty acids are known to reduce inflammation throughout the body, slows the clotting mechanism and that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant mothers consume omega-3’s daily to boost fetal brain development. We also know that omega-3 fatty acids are known as the “good fats” and vital to a person’s health and well-being and our body does not make omega-3 fatty acids. So the question remains, how do we add them to our diet?

Michigan State University Extension says that fish oil is found in the tissues of oily fish, such as tuna, salmon, swordfish, mackerel, sardines, mullet, anchovy, trout, herring and sturgeon. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The preferred method to add these two important fatty acids would be to eat fish, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends limiting the consumption of some of the aforesaid fish, due to the high levels of toxic contaminants such as mercury, PCB’s, dioxin and chlordane. Fish oil used to make more than fifty percent of the supplements comes from farm raised salmon. Due to the high toxins in fish that were caught from the wild, it is suggested that a person takes a high quality supplement in order to obtain the necessary fatty acids for good health.

Fish oil supplements are used for many different conditions. It is used most often to promote healthy joints and to reduce inflammatory joint pain. Omega-3’s have also been found to reduce the activity of enzymes that destroy the cartilage in joints. Research has demonstrated that people who take a fish oil supplement have decreased their need to take prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NASAID) medication for arthritic pain.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), fish oil has proven to be effective in lowering blood pressure, decreasing lipid levels (blood fats) and slowing the clotting mechanism. It is believed that decreasing clotting helps prevent heart attacks and strokes. At this juncture, there is no definitive proof that taking fish oil supplements has decreased cardiac arrhythmias.

The WHO recommends taking a fish oil supplement during pregnancy to promote health, prenatal brain and eye development. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA makes up 15-20 percent of the cerebral cortex, therefore, the WHO urges expectant mothers to take supplemental omega-3 fatty acids for normal development of the fetus and baby.

Research is being conducted daily on fish oil to demonstrate positive effects on other diseases, primarily depression, cognitive improvement, anxiety, asthma, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, the studies have had conflicting results and therefore, cannot be touted as a good use of fish oil supplements. One reason for the difference in the results is due to the percent dosage of EPA to DHA. Clearly, more studies will be necessary in order for people with those diseases to feel comfortable taking the supplements.

As with any supplement, there can be side effects and contraindications for taking the supplement. This is why it is so important that a person checks with their doctor before taking a fish oil/omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Some reasons for not taking the supplement would be: A person is prone to bleeding or on medications that slow bleeding; allergy to fish or other seafood; and, interaction with other vitamins or prescribed medications (birth control pills, antihypertensive drugs and weight loss).

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