The Fundamentals & Benefits of Fish Oil
For years, dietary professionals praised the Mediterranean diet for its extensive health benefits. The Mediterranean diet, inspired by foods that are abundantly found in dishes from Greece, Italy, and Spain, generally promotes healthier eating habits, increases longevity, and can be a catalyst to improved overall health. At the foundation of the Mediterranean diet is an array of fish and seafood.
According to the most recent version of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dietary guidelines, health professionals recommend that most healthy adults should consume eight or more ounces of fish per week (approximately 1-2 servings). The guidelines explain that "seafood provides the most vitamin B12 and vitamin D, in addition to almost all of the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)" required for a healthy and balanced diet. Specifically, omega-3 fatty acids are absent in most American diets but are essential to brain and body functions. Omega-3s also help with muscle and cellular growth, and some studies indicate that they may help improve cognitive brain function.
However, if eating fish doesn't sound appetizing or fish is not accessible but the benefits seem enticing, know that some of the health benefits found within a fish-rich diet can still be added by consuming other healthy food sources or supplements such as fish oil. These alternative sources can serve as a substitute for consuming fish and still offer most of the health benefits.
What Is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is the fat or oil extracted from fish tissue and it contains much of the nutritional benefits - such as omega-3 fatty acids - of consuming fish. Common sources of fish oil include oily fishes such as herring, tuna, anchovies, and mackerel. However, another source of fish oil can be the liver of certain fishes as opposed to extracting it from its skin.
To make fish oil consumable, the oil is extracted from the fish and used to create fish oil supplements. The supplements can be found in various forms such as liquid, capsules, and pills. Depending on how the fish oil will be consumed, any of the aforementioned forms can a helpful supplement to a healthy diet.
The primary ingredient in fish oil (about 30 percent) is omega-3 fatty acids and the rest is composed of other fats. Some oil even contains vitamins A and D, which are great for promoting healthy skin, nails, and bones. While some omega-3s are also found in plant-based food, omega-3s found in fish oil have the added benefits of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These additional nutrients are identified within dietary guidelines as containing myriad health benefits that go beyond basic vitamins.
In addition to the nutrients and vitamins found within fish oil, this type of oil is often promoted and consumed for its anti-inflammatory effects for those with health concerns or conditions regarding inflammation. Fish oil is also taken as a preventative measure to protect against a variety of other diseases and overall improved health.
Benefits of Fish Oil
In general, the benefits of fish oil are derived from its two many fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids are used by the body to prevent and reverse heart disease, decrease the occurrence of irregular heart rhythms, and help with asthma, menstrual problems, hot flashes, and many other health issues.
According to Mayo Clinic, fish oil is generally consumed for its benefits that may have healing effects on the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High triglycerides and cholesterol
- Rheumatoid arthritis
From a dosing standpoint, the American Heart Association recommends that consuming up to three grams of fish oil daily in supplement form is considered a safe amount. But all individuals considering fish oil supplements should seek advice from a doctor before consuming any fish oil products and should speak with a healthcare professional about individualized and appropriate dosing.
Fish Oil Anti-Inflammatory Properties
As mentioned, fish oil is often taken to address inflammation and health conditions that can be triggered by inflammation in the body.
In general, some level of inflammation is normal and for the most part, it's an okay - and healthy - reaction for your body to experience. For the most part, inflammation is the body's immune system’s response to trauma and foreign substances such as pathogens and toxins. Therefore, inflammation can be triggered by internal or external factors such as impact or certain foods. However, not all inflammation is equal and it falls into one of two categories: acute or chronic.
In some form, everyone experiences inflammation (and again, this is not always a bad thing because it does indicate that the body's immune system is working). However, the amount of inflammation and type will affect individuals differently based on their personal health status and any associated chronic conditions. For all, inflammation should be kept at a minimum and unfortunately, chronic inflammation can lead to various health issues.
For those experiencing chronic inflammation that causes pain, discomfort, or restriction in movements, choosing an anti-inflammatory diet could make a big difference in both how their bodies work and how they feel. Since the causes and intensity of inflammation vary, the results of anti-inflammatory foods and supplements will vary. But in any case, omega-3s found in fish oil work by reducing the production of some substances released during the body’s inflammatory response. And this can be a great, natural way to address inflammation issues.
Should You Consume Fish Oil?
No matter what, you can't really go wrong by eating fish or consuming a safe dose of fish oil if approved by a trusted medical professional. The health benefits of omega-3s and other nutrients provided through fish consumption are found to outweigh any potential risks. So regardless of your health goals and overall dietary concerns, fish and fish oil should be a staple and may even provide positive benefits you didn't even realize you needed.