Should You Take a Fish Oil Supplement?

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Over the years we have become most familiar with the use of fish oil and it’s cardioprotective effects. But what other benefits does fish oil provide for our health?

As more research becomes available, larger studies are now showing no correlation between decreased cardiovascular mortality and fish oil supplementation. In a 2013 double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of over 12,000 participants at high risk for a heart attack were randomized to receive either 1g of fish oil daily or a placebo. Those taking the fish oil supplement showed no improvement in cardiovascular health over 5 years compared to those taking the placebo.1 Several other studies continue to publish the same results. However, those who have elevated triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood) can continue to benefit from fish oil supplementation, just not for reducing your risk of cardiovascular mortality.2 If you have elevated triglycerides, it can increase your risk for pancreatitis which is a painful inflammation of the pancreas and can also increase your risk for pancreatic cancer.

In pregnant and lactating women, omega-3 fatty acids are encouraged to promote good eye and cognitive health in infants. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are two types of omega-3 essential fatty acids which must be consumed through diet as our bodies cannot make them. DHA and EPA come mostly from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna. Small amounts of DHA and EPA are converted from plant sources that contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is another type of essential omega-3 fatty acid found in plant sources such as flax seed, chia seed, and walnuts. It is recommended for pregnant and lactating women to consume 200mg-300mg of DHA per day which can be achieved through consuming 8 oz of low-mercury fish, such as salmon and sardines, per week.If unable or not willing to consume fish, supplements can be a viable option as long as they contain at least 200mg of DHA.

Fish oil supplements have shown much promise in treating various types of clinical depression such as postpartum depression and major depression. In 423 adult outpatients who were diagnosed with major depression without anxiety, there was clear benefit in fish oil supplementation with reducing depression over an 8 week period.5 Other studies in regards to mental health have also shown benefit in fish oil supplementation to decrease risk of schizophrenia. In the 2010 February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, 81 people are high risk for developing schizophrenia consumed 1.2g of fish oil or a placebo. After 12 weeks, 28% of those taking the placebo developed schizophrenia while only 5% of those taking the fish oil developed the disease.6

Individuals suffering form rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may be able to find relief from symptoms with fish oil supplementation. Studies have shown decreased stiffness and joint inflammation resulting in reduced NSAID use with fish oil supplementation. 4 However, there has been no strong evidence suggesting fish oil slows the progression of RA. More research is still needed in this area before appropriate recommendations can be made.

EPA & DHA in fish and fish oil supplements have also shown promising results in improving cognitive health in adults. Some studies have suggested the consumption of fish may reduce chronic inflammation, thus decreasing one’s risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, more research is still needed in this area.

For those who do not like taking fish oil because of the sometimes “fishy burps” they can produce or are vegan or vegetarian, another alternative to fish oil supplements is algal oil which is extracted from algae or seaweed and contains both EPA & DHA.

As like any other supplement comes risks and precautions to consider as well. Fish oil supplements consumed in large doses (>3g) increase the risk of bleeding. For those who are already taking a blood thinner such as coumadin or warfarin should consult their doctor before starting a fish oil supplement regimen. Disclaimer: I do not condone the discontinuation of medication without consulting your physician first.

If you are interested in consuming more omega-3 fatty acids to gain these health benefits, try consuming fatty fish such as this Lemon Pepper Salmon:

  • 4 oz salmon, boneless
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1 fresh lemon

Lightly grease with cooking spray a foil lined baking sheet. Put salmon fillet on pan and brush olive oil on both sides. Rub lemon pepper seasoning on top and bottom of salmon. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until fish is pale pink and flakes away gently with a fork. Squeeze two lemon wedges over salmon prior to serving and serve warm. Makes 2 servings.

Serving size: 2 oz

Nutrition Facts: 140 calories, 10g total fat, 314mg sodium, 1g total carbohydrates, 0.5g dietary fiber, 0.5g sugar, 12g protein

Recipe adapted from The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook p.141.

Sources

1 Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Patients With Multiple Cardiovascular Risk Factors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23656645

2 Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Outcomes in Patients with Dysglycemia. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1203859#t=article

3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 dietary guidelines for Americans.

4 Arthritis Foundation: Fish Oil. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/supplements-herbs/guide/fish-oil.php

5 The Efficacy of Omega-3 Supplementation for Major Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/20584525

6 Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Indicated Prevention of Psychotic Disorders. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/210554