Gut Health

Is Omega-3 Fish Oil the Ultimate Supplement?

By Justin Fowler-Lindner
Jeremy Stewart

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, low omega-3 intake is the eighth biggest risk factor for death.

Fortunately, fish oil is packed with life-saving omega-3s.

Fish oil may have the following health benefits:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Supporting cardiovascular health
  • Treating anxiety and depression
  • Slowing cognitive decline
  • Enhancing cognition
  • Supporting immunity
  • Managing bone and joint pain
  • Treating digestive disorders 
  • Balancing cholesterol
  • Supporting skin health

Having this many unique benefits packed into a single compound is rare, but there is a catch: the supplement industry is littered with rancid, toxic fish oil. 

To make matters worse, products made from farmed fish are linked to increased rates of cancer

So the question is, “How do you reap the benefits of omega-3 fish oil while minimizing the risks?”

This article shows you how.

Let’s dive in!

What Is Omega-3 Fish Oil?

Fish oil is made from the fatty tissues of oily fish. It contains the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Omega-3s are considered “essential” fatty acids because the body can’t make them on its own. Instead, you have to get them from a food source like wild-caught fish.

They are also “polyunsaturated,” meaning they have multiple double bonds in their chemical structure.

EPA is a 20-carbon fatty acid. It’s highly bioavailable and the body can process it in its original form.

DHA is a 22-carbon fatty acid. The body has to convert some of it back to EPA in order to maintain a balanced ratio of EPA to DHA.

Why Omega-3s Are Good for You

Both EPA and DHA are precursors to certain eicosanoids: signaling molecules that are known to reduce inflammation in the body.

These anti-inflammatory effects are responsible for the majority of fish oil’s benefits.

Ultimately, omega-3s are used for:

  • Hormone production
  • Mood stability
  • Neurological function
  • Cell membrane maintenance

Studies show that you need a balanced ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s in order to prevent serious chronic disease, especially since omega-6s are pro-inflammatory.

A recent study published in the journal Biomed and Pharmacotherapy found that a ratio of 2:1 omega-6s to omega-3s can reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients. However, a ratio of 5:1 is best for patients with asthma.

Unfortunately, most people are too high in omega-6s (closer to the 30:1).

The main problem is that the modern Western diet is full of omega-6-foods like safflower, sunflower, and canola oil.

In other words, fried fast food can put you on the fast-track for chronic disease.

However, it’s never too late to change your diet and transform your health (like the people of Okinawa, Japan).

Known as the “land of the immortals,” Okinawa has one of the highest disease-free life expectancies in the world, and their diet includes plenty of fish, sea vegetables, and fresh produce.

On a similar note, the Mediterranean region along the southern coast of Europe is known for its high-fat diet and low incidences of heart disease.

Researchers believe that, “The high omega-3 index could at least partially explain the paradox of low rates of fatal CHD (congenital heart disease).”

Do You Have an Omega-3 Deficiency?

Are you getting enough omega-3s in your diet?

Signs and symptoms of omega-3 deficiency can include:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Joint pain
  • Allergy symptoms like hay fever, hives, asthma, and eczema 
  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive ear wax
  • Weak, brittle hair
  • Nails that break easily
  • Dry, flaky, inflamed skin
  • Signs of dehydration (thirst and dry mouth)

Unfortunately, if you eat a standard Western diet, you’re probably low on omega-3s, and that means you’re at risk for serious health problems down the road. 

Omega-3 Dose Recommendations

The FDA recommends a maximum daily dose of 3000 mg of combined EPA and DHA, with no more than 2000 mg coming from supplements.

However, according to the European Food Safety Authority’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies, a daily dose of 5000 mg is safe for healthy adults.

Top Omega-3 Foods

Fatty fish like salmon and sardines have the highest concentration of omega-3s.

The overall best omega-3 foods are:

  • Wild-caught salmon 
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Herring 
  • Cod
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Egg yolks

Always eat wild-caught fish due to the health risks associated with farmed fish, including cancer and hormone imbalances.

Also keep in mind that plant sources of omega-3s do not contain EPA and DHA.

Instead, they contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is also found in canola, soybean, and hemp seed oils. However, ALA is less bioavailable because it has to be converted into EPA and DHA before the body can use it. 

How Fish Oil Is Made

High-quality fish oil is typically made from wild-caught cod, anchovies, sardines, and salmon.

These fish are low on the food chain and naturally contain lower levels of impurities.

The omega-3 fatty acids are extracted without chemicals or excessive heat to remove undesirable organic compounds, saturated fats, and environmental toxins, such as PCBs, heavy metals, and dioxins.

In the final stage of manufacturing, the remaining molecules are reassembled into their original triglyceride form to ensure optimal absorption.

A 2010 study demonstrated that fish oil in the triglyceride form is up to 73 percent easier to absorb than ethyl esters (the cheaper form favored by most supplement companies).

Cod liver oil is another great source of EPA and DHA, and is also a rich source of vitamin A and vitamin D.

Low-quality fish oil tends to oxidize and go rancid in the manufacturing process. By the time it reaches your body, it has either lost its nutritional benefits, become a health hazard, or both.

Instead, always buy high-quality fish oil in the triglyceride form.

5 Top Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements

Now to address the ultimate question: “Is omega-3 fish oil the ultimate supplement?”

Well, fish oil seems to answer that question on its own:

The primary risks of not getting enough omega-3s (and getting too many omega-6s) include:

  • Inflammation
  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer’s 
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Autoimmune diseases

However, if you cut out the processed foods and eat more omega-3s, you can expect the following health benefits:

1. Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is the root of most chronic diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune conditions.

Luckily, omega-3s can help suppress inflammation throughout the body.

According to a 2010 report published in the journal Nutrients, “The anti-inflammatory effects of marine n-3 PUFAs suggest that they may be useful as therapeutic agents in disorders with an inflammatory component.”

For example, a 2013 study in the journal Nutrition Reviews found that omega-3s are particularly effective at reducing inflammation caused by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

How exactly do omega-3s work their anti-inflammatory magic?

By altering the fatty acid composition of cell membranes, they reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines.

2. Prevents Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

Fortunately, diets high in fish have been shown to reduce rates of hypertension, plaque buildup, and heart attacks.

In June of 2019, the FDA announced new health claims for EPA/DHA and heart health.

After reviewing 717 medical publications, they confirmed that the omega-3s in fish oil can reduce the risk factors associated with coronary artery disease. 

For example, one of the clinical trials found that both EPA and DHA can reduce high triglyceride levels, which is also a risk factor for strokes.

3. Fights Alzheimer’s and Cognitive Decline

Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids may have neuroprotective effects and prevent cognitive decline.

For example, a 2009 review of 11 studies conducted by the Center for Memory and Brain Health at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore found that omega-3s may slow the effects of cognitive decline in healthy individuals.

Plus, a separate 2009 Alzheimer’s study by the Department of Medicine at the University of California found that, “(DHA) limits the production and accumulation of the amyloid beta peptide toxin that is widely believed to drive the disease.”

4. Anxiety and Depression

Studies show that omega-3s may be linked to anxiety and depression.

For example, a 2014 study found that people who are deficient in omega-3s are significantly more likely to be depressed than those who get large amounts of dietary omega-3s.

In fact, one study even found that omega-3 supplements can be equally as effective as the prescription medication fluoxetine in treating major depressive disorder.

At the same time, a 2011 randomized-controlled trial published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that omega-3 supplements can reduce anxiety and lower inflammation in medical students.

5. Treats Autoimmune Disease

Early trials indicate that omega-3 fatty acids may help treat several inflammatory autoimmune conditions, including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Lupus
  • Psoriasis
  • Migraine headaches
  • Multiple sclerosis

Researchers have found that, “Many of the placebo-controlled trials of fish oil in chronic inflammatory diseases reveal significant benefit, including decreased disease activity and a lowered use of anti-inflammatory drugs.”

Although fish oil supplements are generally side-effect-free, they can increase the risk of internal bleeding in patients with diabetes and blood clotting disorders. Individuals who bruise easily or who are taking blood-thinning medications may also be at risk.

However, for the vast majority of people, omega-3 fish oil is an essential supplement with potent anti-inflammatory effects and almost no side effects.

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