THE MAGIC BULLET?
While there may still be no “magic bullet” or “fountain of youth” in medicine, fish oils may be the closest thing. There is almost no reason NOT to ensure optimal intake of fish oils, and almost everybody will benefit from them. Here’s what you need to know:
There is more evidence-based research on fish oils than many drugs, particularly for heart health. Fish oil supplementation has repeatedly shown benefits in both the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease (whether on medications or not), including the reduction of heart attack, angina, and stroke risks, and a striking 20% decrease in death. Fish oils also increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and lower total cholesterol. All of these benefits come with zero side-effects!
ANTI-AGING & TELOMERES
Scientists have discovered that our DNA strands can only be replicated a finite number of times before proteins that we call “telomeres” break down. Telomere length has been shown to be associated with longevity. Fish oils are amongst the only known dietary factors that maintain, and may even extend telomere length. Fountain of youth, indeed.
BRAIN & MOOD
Fish oils may aid in the stabilization of mood, anxiety and depressive disorders. They should be considered essential adjunctive treatment in any mental/emotional state or disorder. Optimal levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood are associated with increased mental capacity, focus and concentration, and they help us cope with stress.
ANTI-INFLAMMATION & PAIN
Fish oils prevent the production of inflammatory chemicals (2-series prostaglandins) in the body and boost the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals (3-series prostaglandins). While their effect is not immediate, medium-to-long term regular consumption of fish oils in appropriate doses can effectively control and prevent many, if not all inflammatory conditions including, but not limited to; arthritis, inflammatory bowel disorders, allergies, asthma and eczema.
CHOOSING A FISH OIL
EPA & DHA, NOT “FISH OIL”
It doesn’t matter how much “fish oil” you’re taking, you’re taking it for the
benefits of two specific omega-3 fatty acids - EPA & DHA. Look for a fish oil
that has as close to 1000mg of EPA and DHA combined, for maximum effect from EPA & DHA from the least amount of fish oil. When comparing prices, determine how much you are paying per 1000mg EPA & DHA.
WHAT RATIO OF EPA:DHA?
Fish oil naturally provide EPA & DHA in a ratio of 3:2, but 2:1 and higher ratios are commonly found in the fish oils available to us. This ratio doesn’t matter, unless your’e taking fish oil for mental/emotional symptoms or disorders. In these cases, take ratios of EPA:DHA of 6:1 or even higher, for the best results.
OMEGA-3 FROM PLANTS?
Flaxseed, hempseed, and algae can all provide us with omega-3 essential fatty
acids. Unfortunately the EPA & DHA content is very low in algae, and non-existent in other sources. You cannot convert these other forms of
omega-3 to EPA & DHA very efficiently. They still have great health benefits, they’re just not as good as EPA & DHA.
WHAT ABOUT KRILL?
Krill oil is substantially more expensive than fish oil, and though it is a natural source of some great antioxidants and other healthy fats, it is very low in EPA & DHA. Is it better? Maybe, but it’s certainly not worth the money, and there’s no science to prove it yet.
GET PHARMACEUTICAL GRADE
Fish oils, since they come from fish, are naturally high in toxins and heavy
metals. Getting a pharmaceutical grade fish oil is important to ensure you are getting pure, clean and high quality product and not doing more harm than
good. Buying fish oil on the retail market is a gamble - you never really know what you’re putting in your body. Don’t be fooled by the marketing - unless the company will show you a certificate of analysis for their product, there’s no way to prove safety or quality.
CAPSULES ARE BETTER
Capsules are manufactured in a nitrogen atmosphere and hermetically
sealed, so they will not oxidize, or go rancid. If you have difficulty swallowing gelcaps, liquids may be the better choice for you. Liquids may be easier to take, especially in large doses, but are more prone to oxidation. If you choose a liquid, choose the smallest bottle possible, never store without the lid on, refrigerate and keep away from sunlight or heat.
SAVE THE FISH?
Contrary to popular belief, fish oil is a very tiny market worldwide, and fish are not caught for the purpose of the oil anyways. Choosing fish oil sources that are from small fish (ie. anchovies & sardines) ensures that choosing to take a fish oil supplement has negligible effect on the environment, and is not a sustainability issue at all.
FOR HEART HEALTH
1000mg per day of combined EPA+DHA in any ratio
FOR BRAIN & MOOD
3000mg per day minimum of combined EPA+DHA in a ratio of at least 6:1 of EPA to DHA
FOR INFLAMMATION & PAIN
3000mg per day minimum of combined EPA+DHA in any ratio
FOR ANTI-AGING BENEFITS
2000mg per day minimum of combined EPA+DHA in any ratio
Fish oils have NOT been shown to thin the blood or cause bleeding, despite theoretical concerns, even at very high doses. That being said, be sure to speak to your doctor prior to taking fish oils, if you are taking other supplements or medications of any type.
If you’re “burping-up” a fishy taste, it’s probably not the fish oil - It’s you. Improving your digestive function will alleviate this annoying symptom!
Dr. Jason Marr is a Naturopathic Doctor, an Expert Health & Wellness Speaker, Director of Evoke Integrative Medicine Ltd. in downtown Vancouver, BC, and Functional Medicine Coordinator for Twist Performance & Wellness. He arms urban professionals with evidence-based, integrative, real-world tools to maximize productivity, creativity and learning agility, while overcoming fatigue, stress, anxiety and burnout.