Fish Oil: Schools of Thought
Monday, March 29, 2021
Is fish oil really beneficial to health or is it just a big fish story? Yes and no. Fish, particularly cold-water fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, among others, contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which play important roles in brain function, normal growth and development and inflammation. Omega-3s may help protect us from cardiovascular disease, some cancers, mood disorders and arthritis.
In fact, the Federal Government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults eat eight or more ounces of fish or shellfish per week; however, some are allergic to seafood others simply hate it. Fish oil supplements are touted to be as beneficial as fresh seafood, but this may be a red herring.
In the United States we spend more than $1 billion annually on fish oil supplements assuming they will defend our hearts, lengthen our lives, and even increase our libidos.
The problem is there’s little research to back fish oil supplement benefits. Several major studies reported no heart disease benefit in men or women—including those with heart disease risk factors—or is there conclusive evidence fish oil supplements reduce instances of macular degeneration or the risk of prostate cancer. On the other hand, there is evidence fish oil in large doses may reduce triglycerides and may help relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Most research surrounding omega-3 supplements is inconclusive, meaning there’s no definitive research proving supplements are completely ineffective, either. Our bodies require omega-3s and don’t produce them on their own, so our diets need to include omega-3s. Fish oil supplements have very few side effects. It’s important those allergic to seafood or taking blood thinners consult a physician before taking fish oil supplements. Otherwise, side effects include foul taste, foul breath and foul-smelling sweat. They also include headache and various digestive issues.
So, yes, omega-3s are an important factor in our overall health, but no, fish oil supplements are not a substitute for a well-rounded lifestyle featuring a balanced diet and regular exercise. Nor are supplements as beneficial as simply eating fish and seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements may help those who refuse to eat any fish at all, and omega-3 is also found in ground flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed, canola and soy oils.
In conclusion, there’s no reason to discount fish oil supplements’ benefits completely, just don’t swallow the hype surrounding them hook, line and sinker!
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health; Harvard Health Publishing; AARP