I often receive questions from patients or friends regarding fish oils. Most often, they ask me what does it do or does fish oil really work? The funny thing about nutrition is that there are always studies that bring media attention; this results in a trendy “buzz” and many people jumping on the bandwagon. Even with huge leaps in health popularity, most people taking part aren’t even sure why they jumped on in the first place. These very same people will ultimately discontinue the practice once the buzz dies down.
Fish oil became one the trendy health topics this past decade, much of the buzz being its role in heart health and cholesterol. Though it does play a part in that area, fish oil serves for many other uses that most people aren’t aware of. I feel it is so important, in fact, that I consider it to be one of the 4 essential supplements that everyone should be taking.
It is the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil that serve as the health benefits, which come in two forms: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is known for regulating inflammatory process and DHA is known especially for central nervous system support (the brain and spinal cord). Let’s focus on EPA first.
If you look at virtually any type of disease there is a common component: inflammation. Heart disease begins with inflammation of the arterial walls, Crohn’s disease is inflammation of the intestines, rheumatoid arthritis is joint inflammation. I could go on forever listing diseases. EPA, as a regulator of inflammation, can help in controlling these processes. I am not saying fish oil is a cure, but it can absolutely aid in reducing flare ups and fighting the progression of disease.
DHA is a major supporter of central nervous system health and is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain. By supplementing DHA, you are improving brain function. In fact, a loss of DHA in the brain has been connected with depression and cognitive decline.
The listed health benefits are only a few examples what fish oil can do. To my patients, I typically recommend 1-2 grams of EPA and DHA every day for simple health maintenance. In cases where I working with disease processes, I may raise that number up to 4-8 grams per day, depending on the patient.
One final piece of advice to those that would rather get their oils from eating fish as opposed to the supplement. I applaud your philosophy in getting nutrients from whole food sources, however, in this case, you will not achieve the benefits. In order to get 1-2 grams of EPA/DHA per day you would be eating a lot of fish. Unfortunately, in today’s world, eating all of that fish also means ingesting a lot of heavy metals, such as mercury. The danger of heavy metal toxicity is much too great. Having fish in your diet is a great idea, but not every day. Supplement with a high quality fish oil supplement instead.