The health benefits of fish oil include its ability to aid in weight loss and healthy pregnancy. It also promotes fertility and skin care (particularly for psoriasis and acne). It is beneficial in the treatment of various heart diseases, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, ADHD, weak immune system, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, arthritis, IBD, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, eye disorders, macular degeneration, and ulcers.
Most of the health benefits of fish oil can be attributed to the presence of omega-3 essential fatty acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in it. Other useful essential fatty acids in fish oil include alpha-linolenic acid or ALA and gamma-linolenic acid or GLA.
The different types of fish which are a good source of oil and are commonly found include mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, swordfish, oysters, albacore tuna, bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, turbot, pilchards, anchovies, and salmon. The quality of fish oil greatly depends on the type of fish from which the oil is retrieved.
Health Benefits of Fish Oil
Fish oil has a great impact on our body as it helps in weight loss, skin care, vision improvement and other health issues which are explained in detail below.
Boosts Heart Health
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), clinical trials have shown that omega-3 is effective in reducing the incidence of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Fish oil is a great source of omega-3 and therefore, reduces the risk of heart diseases and heart arrhythmias. It also lowers the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) and increases the level of good cholesterol (HDL). Fish oil prevents the accumulation of triglycerides and also reduces the level of excess triglycerides. Preliminary research has shown that fish oil can be used to prevent atherosclerosis in coronary patients. Thus, fish oil is effective in preventing strokes and regular usage of fish oil can help avoid sudden cardiac death. As per the American Heart Association, these preliminary findings still need to be confirmed by a further detailed research.
Research conducted by Professor Peter Howe at the University of South Australia has shown that fish oil improves the efficacy of exercise in attempts to reduce weight. Volunteers who were given fish oil in their diet showed greater weight loss as compared to those who did not regularly consume it. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help to promote the weight loss, so a combination of physical workout and intake of this oil helps in reducing body fat significantly faster.
It is believed that regular consumption of fish oil aids in boosting your immune system, thereby enabling you to resist the occurrence of common diseases like colds, cough, and the flu. Omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil bolster the immune system by affecting the activity and amount of cytokines and eicosanoids present in our body. Researchers have also studied the effect of a fish meal and fish oil on the immune system of pigs and found that fish oil aided in the growth of the animals. Similar research conducted on mice at Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taiwan, also gave positive results.
Fish oil is beneficial to patients suffering from lupus, which is an autoimmune disease characterized by the immune system attacking its own organs and tissues. Studies have also shown fish oil to help in reducing fever, skin rashes, and fatigue.
Research conducted by the Nutritional Sciences Program in Lexington has argued for fish oil as a treatment for AIDS. However, an in-depth research still needs to be conducted on this.
Fish oil is effective in reducing inflammation in the blood and tissues. Regular consumption of fish oil supplements, tablets, pills, and capsules is helpful to those who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases. Fish oil is effective in treating gastrointestinal disorders, Celiac disease, short bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis, which are both typical disorders of the intestine. Patients suffering from Crohn’s disease often find it difficult to absorb vitamins, fats, and essential supplements. Fish oil supplements are an effective diet for such patients.
In terms of ulcerative colitis, fish oil prevents the accumulation of leukotriene in the colon. Research is also being conducted to increase the anti-inflammatory reputation of fish oil, particularly when combined with other dietary supplements and drugs.
Fish oil is useful in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, Raynaud’s symptoms and similar conditions. Using the fish oil can help in reducing the need for large dosages of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). The Royal Adelaide Hospital and the University of Newcastle, located in Australia, have reported that fish oil has shown positive effects in the treatment of arthritis. In cases of osteoarthritis, fish oil can be helpful in reducing the impact of enzymes that destroy cartilage.
However, since the dosage of fish oil required for an ideal effect in the improvement of a patient is unknown, the Arthritis Center in the Department of Rheumatology at John Hopkins University considers including omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil in the treatment of arthritis as controversial. The University also cautions that arthritis patients must be wary of all the other side effects that can come from using fish oil. You can read more about arthritis on the web page of the Arthritis Foundation and the Arthritis Center.
Relieves Depression & Anxiety
Due to the presence of Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil has been promoted for relieving depression, sadness, anxiety, restlessness, mental fatigue, stress, decreased sexual desire, suicidal tendencies, and other nervous disorders. Researchers at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, in their research publication titled “Fish Oils and Bipolar Disorder: A Promising but Untested Treatment”, state that fish oil can be useful in mood stabilization and the treatment of bipolar disorders. It is unsurprising, therefore, that countries where fish is frequently eaten, have a low incidence of depression. Similarly, research conducted on prisoners has shown that when prisoners were given seafood containing a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids, there was a significant drop in the homicide rate and the frequency of violence. Intake of fish is also a good remedy for depression. Findings of a research study suggest that fish consumption may be beneficial for women’s mental health and reduces the risk of developing depression in women.
It is well known that fish oil has the ability to improve vision. It also helps in avoiding age-related macular degeneration. The National Eye Institute at the National Institute of Health in the United States plans to conduct a nationwide study to evaluate the effect of fish oil in treating macular degeneration. This study will provide strong scientific evidence regarding the benefits of fish oil for eye care, thereby allowing government agencies and physicians to strongly recommend fish oil for macular degeneration.
Treats Alzheimer’s disease
Research conducted at the Louisiana State University has shown that fatty acids are effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Since fish oil is one of the best sources of essential fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, it helps in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. More research conducted at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) validates the usefulness of fish oil as a possible remedy for the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends fish containing a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids to patients since it acts as a defense against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Helps in ADHD Treatment
Fish oil has the ability to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) due to its high concentration of fatty acids. For children suffering from hyperactivity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, inability to complete tasks, emotional instability, wavering attitude, poor coordination, short attention span, short-term memory weakness, low concentration, tendency to interrupt others, recklessness, hastiness, impetuosity, impulsiveness, low IQ, or learning disorders, fish oil is a proven remedy. Research conducted at the University of South Australia and CSIRO has shown that when children suffering from ADHD were given doses of fish oil and evening primrose capsules for 15 weeks, they showed significant improvements in their behavior. Since, human brain consists of about 60% fats, especially essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6, it helps to improve the functions of the brain.
Furthermore, it is believed that fish oil is useful in the normal development of the brain, along with helping your child concentrate on their studies. It has also been found that when pregnant women are given regular doses of fish oil, their toddlers display enhanced hand-eye coordination.
It is great for improving the condition of the dry skin by making it look shiny and vibrant. It is useful in treating various skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, itching, skin redness, skin lesions, and rashes. In terms of psoriasis, the EPA present in fish oil restricts the growth of pro-inflammatory agents by producing arachidonic acid. Therefore, fish oil can also be applied topically to get relief from psoriasis.
Regular consumption of fish oil capsules helps in reducing moisture loss from the skin. It is also claimed by some people that the oil helps in preventing sunburn but the research behind that claim is not verified.
Fish oil is an effective treatment for acne. EPA present in the oil is known to inhibit androgen formation, which can affect the formation of sebum in the hair follicles, leading to acne.
Aids in Cancer Treatment
It is useful in reducing weight loss in patients suffering from pancreatic cancer. Its supplements can also be helpful for patients suffering from cancer-related hyperlipidemia.
Type II diabetic patients are prone to cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, and stroke. Research conducted at the University of Oxford has shown fish oil to be useful in reducing triglyceride levels in patients with diabetes as well.
The presence of EPA and DHA in fish oil makes it helpful in case of ulcers caused by Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Supports Healthy Pregnancy
Fish oil is very beneficial for pregnant women because the DHA present in it helps in the development of the eyes and brain of the baby. It also helps to avoid premature births, low birth weight, and miscarriages. Research conducted in Denmark, which involved 8,729 pregnant women, concluded that a diet with low amounts of fish resulted in a higher risk of premature or preterm babies.
It is also believed that women who do not have a sufficient intake of EPA and DHA in their diet suffer from depression after childbirth, as there is a transfer of some amount of brain mass from the mother to the child in the last stages of pregnancy. Thus, it is very beneficial to consume fish oil either by eating fish or taking fish oil supplements, tablets, capsules, or pills during pregnancy for the overall development of the child and the well-being of the mother. However, it should be noted that fish oil obtained from the liver of the fish, example – cod liver oil, should not be consumed during pregnancy as cod liver oil is high in retinol and vitamin A, which are usually known to cause birth defects.
Fish oils rich in omega 3 fatty acids help improve fertility and cell division. Preliminary research conducted on animals has shown that when males are fed a diet containing fish oil, the quality of the sperm is enhanced. After ejaculation, the sperm has increased survival against lipid peroxidative attacks in the female genital tract, thereby increasing the chances of conception. On the other hand, similar animal studies have shown inhibition in the synthesis of prostaglandin E and prostaglandin F, which are produced in large quantities by human seminal vesicles. The research, however, found no impact on the count and mobility of sperm.
It helps maintain a good luster of the hair because omega-3 has growth stimulating properties since it provides nourishment to the follicles. It aids in the development of hair and in preventing hair loss. A good supply of protein is also necessary for hair growth, and since most fish varieties are rich in protein, eating fish helps to keep hair healthy.
Prevents Lou Gehrig’s disease
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Recent research suggests that intake of diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce or delay the onset of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Improves Blood Circulation
It is widely accepted that fish oil has the ability to improve blood circulation along with reducing triglyceride and serum cholesterol levels. However, the benefit of improving blood circulation has primarily been studied only in rats.
It is also believed that fish oil helps in preventing asthma and kidney failure. Many people also like to feed fish oil to their pets, especially dogs and cats, as it promotes shiny and smooth hair. It can also help dogs and cats deal with arthritis, which is a very common disease among pets.
The National High Blood Pressure Education Program in the United States has cautioned against inaccurate publicity of fish oil as an effective means of lowering high blood pressure in patients suffering from hypertension. According to its report, fish oil supplements lower blood pressure in a very small way in hypertensive patients. Research conducted at the Channing Laboratory in Boston has revealed that moderate doses of fish oil supplements have little effect on the condition of high blood pressure in normotensive people.
Fish Oil Side Effects
Even though fish oil has many benefits, its excessive intake may cause allergy and side-effects. People who are allergic to seafood or fishes, in particular, will experience effects like hives and swelling of face, lips, tongue or throat.
In case of excess intake, one may also experience bad breath, stomach upset, loose stools, belching, nausea, uneven heartbeat, and chronic illness in this case. Make sure you do not consume more than the recommended intake amount and avoid consumption if allergic to fish. Let us look at some of the side-effects in detail:
Children: Excessive intake of fish oil by children can lead to allergic reactions like itchiness, sneezing or a dry cough, and may also weaken their immune system.
Pregnant Women: Even though fish oil has many benefits for pregnant women, the mercury content found in it can harm the memory, hearing abilities, cognitive skills and vision of the baby.
Depression & Bipolar Disorder: Excessive intake of fish oil can increase symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder.
Cancer & Liver Disease: Avoid excess intake if suffering from diabetes, cancer and liver disease as it may worsen the condition.
Diabetes & Low blood pressure: Intake of fish oil in excess can lower blood pressure levels below the normal level.
Caution on the dosage of fish oil
An excessive dosage of fish oil can have adverse allergies and side effects on the body. Furthermore, fish oil can be problematic if you have certain conditions so it is necessary to consume fish oil supplements cautiously. Moreover, it can be consumed in various forms. These include eating the fish directly by baking, roasting, frying, grilling, broiling, or smoking it. It can also be consumed in the form of concentrated dietary supplements like liquid, tablet, capsule, pill, or soft gels. Also, there are various pharmaceutical grades of the oil. It is not necessary to constantly consume pharmaceutical-grade oil or even supplements. You should also consult your doctor to confirm the mode of consuming fish oil and the overall need for it in your diet.
Should We Replace Vegetable Oils with Fish Oil?
The short answer is no. There are many websites which advise people to stop eating vegetable oils and switch to fish oil in order to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids and should be consumed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one should completely replace vegetable oils with fish oil.
Here is a brief on omega-3 fatty acids: There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids, namely alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). All three are important for the body. Vegetable sources, including flaxseed oil, soybean oil, hemp oil, canola oil, walnut oil, rapeseed, perilla, chia, and tofu are rich in ALA. The human body has the ability to convert ALA to DHA and EPA, though there are certain limitations to this conversion.
How much of fish oil is safe to consume?
Fish oil can be consumed in various ways such as capsules or can be included in daily meals. The dosage should not exceed 3 fish oil capsules per day. 1000mg of fish oil contains approximately 300mg omega-3 fatty acids so you can accordingly use the amount of fish oil in your meals. A daily intake of 3000mg or less is safe for all. Pregnant and lactating women can consume approximately 3200 mg per day.
Fish oil Purity
Pay attention to the quality of fish oil when purchasing it. It is obtained from almost all fishes – fresh water, farm, ocean, deep sea and shallow sea fish. All these fishes can be contaminated with toxic compounds such as mercury, arsenic, lead, forms of calcium, furans, dioxins, PCBs, and methylmercury, and can negatively affect the human body. Therefore, the fish oil used must be pure. Many companies sell ultra refined or distilled fish oil, but you should always check if the standards have been followed and research on the company or the product before adding it to your diet.
While fish oil has plenty of beneficial qualities, there is a lot of hype around its possible applications, and not all of them are accurate, so be wary when reading literature on this useful oil. Fish oil manufacturers have attempted to market it as a remedy for almost anything. We suggest that readers educate themselves fully before making an informed decision, rather than getting affected by both negative and positive propaganda about the beneficial applications of fish oil.
Fish oil and Vitamins
Vitamin A and Vitamin D: Fish oil, especially the types obtained from fish livers like cod liver oil is a rich source of vitamin A and vitamin D. However, excessive dosage of cod liver oil can lead to vitamin toxicity, the accumulation of excessive vitamins in the body, which can cause serious side effects.
Vitamin E: Fish oil undergoes oxidation and can become rancid, leading to the formation of free radicals. The addition of antioxidants such as vitamin E to the oil can help prevent the formation of these free radicals.
Excessive dosage of fish oil leads to decreased levels of vitamin E in the human body. This loss of vitamin E should be supplemented with external vitamin E supplements.
Rather than individually used as a treatment method, the combination of fish oil and vitamin E can benefit the treatment of many cancers and heart diseases when combined.
Preliminary research has been carried out which proves the above statements; however, these need to be substantiated with more detailed research before drawing strong conclusions on the use of fish oil and vitamin E in a combined effort.