The health benefits of fish oil include its ability to aid in the treatment of various heart diseases, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, ADHD, weakened immune system, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, arthritis, IBD, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, eye disorders, macular degeneration and ulcers. It also helps aid weight loss, healthy pregnancy, fertility and skin care (particularly for conditions such as psoriasis and acne).
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). Other useful essential fatty acids in fish oil include Alpha-linolenic acid or ALA and Gamma-linolenic acid or GLA.
While fish oil has plenty of beneficial qualities, there is lot of buzz and 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. Below, we’ll explore the various, proven benefits of fish oil, some of which are based on concrete scientific evidence while others are based on animal studies alone. We suggest that readers educate themselves full before making an informed decision, rather than be affected by both negative and positive propaganda about the beneficial applications of fish oil.
The different types of fish which can be a good source of its oil are mackerel, rainbow trout, lake trout, halibut, herring, sea bass, sardines, swordfish, oysters, albacore tuna, blue fin tuna, yellow fin tuna, turbot, pilchards, anchovies and salmon. The most common ones among these for obtaining oil are albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, lake trout and salmon. The quality of fish oil greatly depends on the type of fish from which you retrieve the oil.
Health Benefits of Fish Oil
The health benefits of fish oil include the following:
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 further reduces the level of excess triglycerides. Preliminary research has also 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 further detailed research.
Weight Loss: It has also been popularized as an aid in losing weight. 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. Exercise combined with the oil had a positive effect on body shape and composition of the participating patients.
Improved Immunity: It is believed that regular consumption of fish oil aids in boosting your immune system, thereby enabling you to resist the occurence of common diseases like colds, coughs and the flu. Omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil bolster the immune system by effecting the activity and amount of cytokines and eicosanoids present in our body. Researchers have also studied the effect of 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.
Basically, fish oil has the potential to enhance the immune system of humans, but again, further research on humans is required. Fish oil is also 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 associated fever, skin rashes and fatigue.
AIDS: Research conducted by the Nutritional Sciences Program in Lexington has argued for fish oil as a treatment for AIDS.However, a great deal of research still needs to be conducted on this.
Anti-Inflammatory Properties: 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 on 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.
Arthritis: Fish oil is useful in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, Raynaud’s symptoms and similar conditions. Using 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, both of which are located in Australia, have reported that large quantities of fish oil have shown positive effects on 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 of fish oil. You can read more about arthritis on the webpage of the Arthritis Foundation and the Arthritis Center.
Depression and 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 it has been found 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 sea food containing 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 suggests that fish consumption may be beneficial for women’s mental health and reduce risk of developing depression in women.
Eye Disorders: 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.
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 at Los Angeles (UCLA) validates the usefulness of fish oil as a possible remedy for the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends fish containing higher content of omega-3 fatty acids to patients since it acts as a defense against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
ADHD or ADD
Fish oil has the ability to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) due to its high concentration of fatty acids. If your child suffers 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 brain matter 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.
Skin Care: It is great for improving the condition of dry skin by making it 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.
Cancer: It is useful in reducing weight loss in patients suffering from pancreatic cancer. Its supplements can also be helpful to patients suffering from cancer-related hyperlipidemia.
Diabetes: Type II diabetic patients are prone to cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, and stroke. As mentioned above, it is helpful in treating various heart problems. Research conducted at the University of Oxford has shown fish oil to be useful in reducing triglyceride levels in patients with diabetes as well.
Ulcers: The presence of EPA and DHA in fish oil makes it helpful in case of ulcers caused by Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
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 birth, as there is a transfer of some amount of brain mass from the mother to the child in the last stages of pregnancy. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, when pregnant women are given fish oil supplements, their children show enhanced hand eye coordination. 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 rich in retinol and vitamin A.
Fertility: Preliminary research conducted on boars has shown that when male boars are fed with a diet containing fish oil, the quality of the sperm is enhanced. After ejaculation, the sperm have 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 in the count and mobility of sperm.
Hair Care: 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 increased 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.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Fish oil is rich in various nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids. Recent research suggests that intake of diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce or delay onset of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
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 on rats only.
It is also believed that fish oil helps to prevent asthma and kidney failure. Many people also like to feed fish oil to their pets, especially dogs and cats, as it promotes shiny hair and smooth skin. 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 persons.
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. However, it should be noted that most of these websites take a bias towards fish oil to increase the sales of their own products. 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 flax seed 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.
Caution on 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. You should consult a doctor or physician for the exact dosage of fish oil you should take. Moreover, it can be consumed in various forms. These include eating the fish directly by baking, roasting, frying, grilling, broiling, or smoking it. You can also consume it 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 your mode of consuming fish oil and your overall need for it in your diet.
Fish oil purity
One must pay attention to the quality of fish oil when purchasing it. It is obtained from almost all fish – freshwater, farm, ocean, deep sea and shallow sea fish. All these fish can be contaminated with toxic compounds such as mercury, arsenic, lead, forms of calcium, furans, dioxins, PCBs, and methyl mercury, 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 do your research on a company or a product before adding it to your diet.
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: Various beliefs surrounding fish oil and vitamin E include:
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.
The combination of fish oil and vitamin E can benefit the treatment of many cancers and heart diseases when combined, rather than individually used as a treatment method.
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.