Living near the ocean, we should not have any shortage of fish in local markets and grocery stores. However, not all of us eat enough fish to reap the health benefits. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating 1–2 portions of fish per week. This is because the omega-3 fatty acids in fish provide many health benefits, including protection against a number of diseases.
If you don’t eat 1–2 servings of fish per week, fish oil supplements can help you get enough omega-3s. Fish oil usually comes from oily fish, such as herring, tuna, anchovies, and mackerel. Yet it’s sometimes produced from the livers of other fish, as is the case with cod liver oil.
Here are the top areas of the body that can benefit from omega-3s:
Omega 3s can increase HDL cholesterol, and lower triglycerides by 15 – 30%. If you have high blood pressure, omega-3s can help lower that, too. Plus, it may prevent the hardening of the arteries and reduce fatal arrhythmia events. However, there is no clear evidence that omega 3s can prevent heart attacks or strokes.
Did you know that 60% of your brain is made up of fat? Much of that is omega-3 fatty acids, so naturally, omega-3s are essential for normal brain function. Research has shown that fish oil supplements can prevent or improve the symptoms of some mental disorders and reduce psychotic disorders for those at risk. It also may reduce symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
Sadly, depression is expected to become the second-largest cause of illness before the end of the decade. Fish oil and omega-3 supplements may improve the symptoms of depression as studies have shown that people with major depression have lower blood levels of omega-3s.
Fish oil supplements can also benefit children with behavioral disorders such as ADHD. Older adults who eat more fish can experience a slower decline of brain function and fish oil may help improve memory in healthy, older adults.
Skin and Bones
Like your brain, aging takes a toll on your skin and bones. Your skin contains a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, and skin health can also decline as you age. Taking fish oil supplements can help with skin disorders including psoriasis and dermatitis. Bones also begin to lose essential minerals during old age which can lead to osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. We know that calcium and vitamin D are important to bone health, but omega-3 fatty acids can also benefit bone health by improving mineral density.
Another area that declines as we age is our eye health, and those who don’t get enough omega-3s have a greater risk of eye diseases. Eating fish reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is an area where eating fish shows a positive impact, but taking supplements does not show the same result.
Most of the fat in your body is processed by your liver and that can play a role in weight gain. Liver disease is common among obese individuals. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs when fat accumulates in your liver. Fish oil supplements can improve liver function and inflammation, which may reduce symptoms of NAFLD as well as reduce the amount of fat in your liver.
Inflammation is your body’s way of fighting infection and treating injury. However, chronic inflammation can be associated with illness and diseases like obesity, diabetes, depression, and heart disease. Fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties that may help treat these conditions. If you are stressed or obese, fish oil can reduce the production of cytokines which are inflammatory molecules. Fish oil can also reduce joint pain, stiffness, and help people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Pregnant and Breastfeeding Mothers
It’s important for moms to get enough omega-3s during pregnancy and while breastfeeding as it helps both mom and baby. Fish oil supplements taken by moms can improve hand-eye coordination in infants and may also improve infant visual development and help reduce the risk of developing allergies. Fish oil may also reduce asthma symptoms, especially in early life.
If you do not eat 1-2 portions of oily fish each week, you may want to consider a supplement. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is one of several omega-3 fatty acids. It is found in cold-water fatty fish and in fish oil supplements, along with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For most people, a fish oil supplement that provides at least 0.3 grams (300 mg) of EPA and DHA per serving is a recommended daily dose.
Read the labels and make sure to choose a supplement that contains at least 500 mg of EPA and DHA per 1,000 mg of fish oil. Supplements should also have a seal of purity from the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED). When taking a fish oil supplement, it’s best to take it with a meal that contains fat for better absorption.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your health and which supplement and dosage is right for you.