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Friday
Nov062009

"Mega" Benefits of Omega-3 Fish Oil

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

My wife recently told me a story about a shopping trip she was on. While waiting in line, she was doing some people-watching and began listening to the conversation of the woman in front of her, who was speaking with the cashier. The customer placed a large bottle of fish oil on the checkout counter, and the cashier responded by saying, "I've heard a lot about fish oil being good for you." The customer responded by saying, "Gosh, I wouldn't know. My vet told me they'd be good for my dog, so they're for him. I don't use them." We had a good laugh as she told me the story, but it presents a good example of how, even though the benefits of fish oil are talked about almost everywhere, not everyone really understands the significance of this important supplement. It was also a good example of how people are willing to invest in the health of "man's best friend," yet often neglect their own health.

An online survey completed by Equation Research showed that only 26 percent of Americans said they take fish oil supplements, even though 63% of the respondents said they felt their diet did not have enough omega-3 fatty acids. Although the effects of omega-3 supplementation are not always immediate, they are quite significant. The following is a very short list of some of the health benefits associated with fish oil intake in research studies:

  • Reduced psychological distress
  • Improved brain development
  • Reduced symptoms of depression
  • Enhanced eye health
  • Reduced body weight (from overweight/obesity)
  • Increased skin health
  • Diabetes support
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Possible reduction in infant allergies if used during pregnancy
  • Possible reduction in chest pain (acute coronary syndrome)
  • Reduced age-related sight loss

Choosing Your Omega-3s Wisely

Many products in stores are currently being featured as "high in omega-3." Before reaching for products with this label claim, be sure you're looking for the right type of omega-3. Plant sources of omega-3 are usually high in an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Certain animals are good at converting ALA to two additional omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). It's DHA and EPA that provide many of the benefits omega-3 fats are known for. Unfortunately, humans, are not very good at converting ALA to DHA and EPA, which is why it's best to look to fish oil for your omega-3s. Flax and other plant-based sources of ALA have additional health benefits beyond the omega-3s themselves, so don't eliminate them from the diet. If you avoid all animal foods, flax is the best plant-based source of omega-3s. Just understand that flax is not the best source to meet your omega-3 daily needs - fish oil is.

Wild Alaskan Salmon is one of the best food sources of EPA and DHA, but it is still difficult to take in enough from salmon alone, even if it's eaten every day. Take note of the type of salmon. There is a big difference between Wild Alaskan Salmon, which eat their natural ocean diet, and farmed salmon, which are actually fed grain as part of their diet. Changing the salmon's diet significantly changes the quality of fat in the salmon. A typical salmon steak provides about one gram of combined EPA and DHA, which can be found through supplementation in two high quality softgels. It's best to try to get your omega-3 needs met with both food and supplements.

In the case of supplements, the source of the fish oil is important. The best fish oils come from small fish such as anchovies, mackerel and sardines in the deep, pure, cold waters of the North and South Atlanic Oceans and Pacific Ocean. Like with salmon, sourcing fish from these oceans ensures the oil is higher in quality than when it comes from a fish farm.

Getting Enough Omega-3

Conservative recommendations for daily DHA and EPA intake range from one to four grams. Omega-3 softgels vary in their DHA and EPA content. Lower-quality fish oil supplements usually have about 300 mg of EPA and DHA per 1 gram softgel. Higher quality softgels often often have 500-600 mg of EPA and DHA per softgel. As mentioned above, a typical salmon steak provides about one gram of EPA and DHA. If your omega-3 fish oil softgel provides 600 grams of total EPA and DHA, two to four capsules are usually recommended, but some people have found additional benefits with even more. It's best to talk with a knowledgeable Health or Fitness Professional for personalized guidance.

Since most people do not eat fatty fish, like Wild Alaskan Salmon every day, supplementation should be a regular part of the diet. Making changes to your diet and taking two to four high quality fish oil softgels like the Life Time Fitness Omega-3 Fish Oil is a great start to meeting your daily omega-3 needs. You can find them at LifeCafe or at the online store.

Summary

If you have a pet, there's certainly nothing wrong with improving its health by giving it some omega-3s each day. However, there is overwhelming evidence to say fish oil should be a regular part of your diet as well. You may not see or feel a difference overnight, but dont' let that stop you. The benefits of omega-3 supplementation are significant. This is one of a small group of nutritional products I won't ever be without. You can expect to see even more benefits of omega-3 fish oil use in the near future as it is studied more with higher doses.

References:

Furuhjelm C, Warstedt K, Larsson J, Fredriksson M, Fageras Bottcher M, Faith-Magnusson K, Duchen K. Fish oil supplementation in pregnancy and lactation may decrease the risk of infant allergy. Acta Paediatrica 2009

Micallef M, Munro I, Phang M, Garg M. Palsma n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are negatively associated with obesity. Br J Nutr. 102, pp 1370-1374

SanGiovanni J, Agron E, Meleth AD, Reed G, Sperduto D, Clemons T, Chew E. w-3 Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake and 12-y incidence of neovascular age-related macular degeneration and central geographic atrophy: a prospective cohort study from the Age-Related Eye Diseaase Study. Am J Clin Nutr. October 7, 2009

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Joensen A, Schmidt E, Dethlefsen C, Johnsen S, Tjonneland A, Rasmusssen L, Overvad K. Dietary intake of total marine n-3 polyunstaurated fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid and docosapentaenoic acid and the risk of acute coronary syndrome - a cohort study. Br J Nutr. 2009 Oct 14:1-6

Davis W. Why does fish oil reduce triglycerides? The Heart Scan Blog. November 1, 2009

Nutraingredients.com Omega-3 awareness not backed by supplement choices: Survey. Nutraingredients.com. Sept 25, 2009

Whalen J. Probing Health Benefits from Eating Omega-3s. The Wall Street Journal. Sept 14, 2009

Micallef M, Munro I, Garg M. An inverse relationship between plasma n-3 fatty acids and C-reactive protein in healthy individuals. E J Clin Nutr. 2009:63;1154-1156

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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