One of the biggest things that drove me as a curious individual to study nutrition was the helplessness I felt staring at the wall of supplements at the aisle in the supermarket, wondering what I really need and what actually works. I didn’t believe I could possibly need to supplement with everything out there, but I knew there were benefits to supplementation, and that some supplements were more necessary than others.
After doing more research, it seems clear that fish oil is one of those clear winners that I believe almost anyone can benefit from.
But just so we are crystal clear, you don't need any supplements. The very word implies that it is supplemental to your diet, so if you are getting all the necessary micronutrients from your diet, then save the cash.
That said, in today’s blog post, I am going to dive into various reasons why you should consider it if your diet does not include sufficient omega-3 fatty acids.
What is fish oil?
Fish oil is a dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. The two omega-3s contained in fish oil are Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Our body must obtain omega-3 fatty acids from food as they cannot be manufactured in the body. Dietary sources of EPA and DHA include fatty fish like anchovy, salmon, trout, herring, tuna.
Omega-3 fats are a key family of polyunsaturated fat. EPA and DHA are of particular importance as these help in “regulating various biological processes such as the inflammatory response, various metabolic signaling pathways, and brain function.”
Studies show that the average person’s diet provides just a tenth of the EPA and DHA needed to preserve health and prevent disease.
For completion’s sake, here is another omega-3 called Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which we can get from nuts, seeds, and vegetable oil. ALA is not a fish oil fatty acid, and while it can be used by the body for energy, it’s conversion into EPA and DHA is very limited.
What are the benefits of fish oil?
1. Reduced soreness and improved recovery Fish oil enhances recovery of muscular performance and reduces perceived soreness post-exercise from eccentric exercises which typically cause the most delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Supplementing with fish oil can definitely have modest effects on recovery and training adaptations, and it serves as the extra 5% that might aid our recovery from harder bouts in the gym. 2. Anti-inflammatory effect Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and therefore might be useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune disease. 3. Lowers your blood pressure and risk of cardiac issues There are multiple studies showing modest reductions in the blood pressure of people that consume fish oil, with some evidence pointing towards a greater decrease in blood pressure in persons with moderate to severely high blood pressure. This is likely due to the impact of EPA and DHA on heart rate and cardiac output along with improved endothelial and overall vascular function. 4. Better brain cognition
Fish oil has positive effects on cognitive function particularly in terms of decision making, memory, attention and reaction time.
5. Improved mood
It also is able to reduce depressive symptoms, anxiety, stress and improve mood states. While such conditions are multi-faceted, any product that may be correlated with positive moods is worth it, as it creates a snowball effect that can set you up for a healthy lifestyle, lower stress, and less depression.
6. Lower triglyceride levels
For people with high triglyceride levels, the EPA in the fish oil can be beneficial in helping reduce triglyceride level. This leads to improved health as reducing triglyceride levels decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease, pancreatitis, and type 2 diabetes.
Ways to increase Omega-3 intake
1. Eat more fatty fish
Aim to consume more fatty fish sources in your diet.
While increasing omega-3 intake is great for the whole host of benefits, it is still important to point out that it still counts as fats, so if you are counting your calories and macros, don’t forget to add this in!
2. Reduce Omega-6 intake This brings me to the next point on omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are another type of essential fat that we need to get from our diet, it is a healthy unsaturated fat that occurs naturally in certain plant foods such as vegetables and nuts. However, our modern day diet means we tend overconsume omega-6 fats, particularly from processed foods, fast foods and fried foods. This throws off the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. High levels of omega-6 fats leads to chronic inflammation and increase cardiovascular risk factors. 3. Invest in a good supplement If you are unable to reach the recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids from your diet alone, it’s recommended (see next section) to invest in a good supplement to make up any shortfall.
As with all supplementation, there is a huge disparity in the quality of fish oil products.
There are 3 different forms of fish oil supplements on the market today:
Most popular in the market, not because they are better but because they are the cheapest to produce.
I recommend where possible looking for reesterified triglyceride oil which is the “gold standard” of fish oil. Take note that not many companies sell Reesterified Triglyceride oils because they are expensive to produce, but they are well worth the premium.
Generally, a supplement rich in DHA and EPA relative to the total fat content would mean a lower quantity of filler fats. Always check the label of the supplement to determine the EPA and DHA content per serving. Another neat trick to test the quality of the fish oil you are getting is the freezer test where you place the bottle of fish oil in the freezer for a few hours and check back. If it is cloudy and not see-through you will know it is not as pure as a completely clear one.
When it comes to storage, keep your product stored in a cool, dry place, like the refrigerator, as fish oil can turn rancid when exposed to heat, making it ineffective.
The more EPA and DHA that you are able to get directly from your diet, the less supplementation is required. That said, the recommended dose for a healthy adult that is between 1-3g of combined EPA and DHA daily. For physically active people, 2-4g per day is a sensible recommendation, with additional benefits being seen up to a combined intake of as much as 6g per day.
Take your fish oil with meals, and if you plan to take more than 2g per day, split your intake up into two doses separated by several hours to maximise absorption and effectiveness.
Some people complain of nasty fish oil burps, if so ensure you store the pills in the freezer and take them without food.
Many other common side effects are also associated with taking the Triglyceride and Ethyl Ester options, so where possible opt for Reesterified Triglycerides to ward off these common issues.
With the many upsides, I would say if you are falling short in terms of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet already, it's definitely a great one to add to your supplement stack!
**Disclaimer- I am not a physician. Before using any supplements, it is imperative that you speak with a physician regarding supplements you plan to take. If a supplement causes side effects, discontinue use immediately. I cannot and do not claim to know all research safety data on every supplement. I have only included what I can find, and thus it's extremely important to weigh the risks and rewards from any supplement. Understand that supplements aren't evaluated by the FDA for safety or effectiveness.**