There are few supplements on the market that offer the wide range of benefits that fish oil does. Most of its benefits are derived from its omega 3 fatty acid content. The two main omega 3s in fish oil are Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), also known as poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Different ratios of these two fats have different therapeutic effects within the body.
Most people don’t eat enough omega 3s in their diets, so supplementation is something I commonly recommend, along with increasing omega 3s via dietary intake. Requirements differ between people, but its generally recommended to consume omega 3s at a 3:1 ratio compared to omega 6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, the average Canadian consumes Omega 6:Omega 3 fats at a ratio of 15:1 – some sources even suggest this is as high as 25:1 in many individuals. Omega 6 fatty acid sources include vegetable oils like corn, peanut, and soybean sunflower oil – fats that are generally considered devoid of nutrients and pro-inflammatory in the body (not good for our health). Excess inflammation is a key player in all of society’s common ailments, from cancer and heart disease to autoimmune disease and chronic pain. Omega 6 fats are commonly found in fast foods and processed, boxed foods, while omega 3s commonly come from fish and nuts.
Here are the top three health conditions for which I commonly recommend fish oil supplementation and why:
- Mood Support
Depression and anxiety are conditions that touch all of our lives in one way or another – if you aren’t suffering from one of them, you likely know someone who is. The cell membranes in our bodies are partially made up of omega 3s, and having a higher omega 3 content makes it easier for molecules, such as the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, to pass through the cellular membrane and act within the cell as they are supposed to. Also, when people with mental health issues increase their consumption of EPA and DHA, the areas of the brain that control depression and mood increase in volume. There is a correlation between countries that consume a lot of fish per capita and lower national rates of anxiety and depression. Lastly it’s also been shown that those who have anxiety and depression typically have lower blood levels of omega 3s.
Symptoms of psoriasis, atopic dermatitis/eczema, and acne all benefit from fish oil on most occasions. As both an anti-oxidant and an anti-inflammatory nutrient, fish oil helps to both protect and heal these chronic skin conditions. In eczema and psoriasis, omega 3s can help decrease itching, scaling, and redness. In acne, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and hyperkeratinization, both contributors to the process of acne development, can both be reduced by increasing Omega 3 consumption. EPA helps regulate oil production and supplies the skin with more hydration, in addition to decreasing inflammation from the inside out. Additionally, omega 3s are considered anti-aging nutrients, warding off wrinkles and helping to protect against UV damage.
- Reducing Pain
The use of NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen) are commonly used to diminish both acute and chronic pain, but complications from long-term use can include gastric ulcers, GI bleeding, heart attacks, and even death. Omega 3s are considered by many to be an effective alternative with fewer side effects. One study in patients with various non-surgical causes of neck and/or back pain took between 1-3g of fish oil per day for one month. Of the 250 participants, 60% said their pain had decreased, and 80% said that they were satisfied with their reduction in pain levels. Another study showed that omega 3 fish oil supplements work equally as well as NSAIDs at reducing arthritic pain. Yet another study showed omega 3s were actually more effective at reducing menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) than Ibuprofen. Often in studies where NSAID use and fish oil supplementation are combined, the majority of participants are able to reduce or eliminate their use of NSAIDs all together.
Although these are my top three reasons for recommending fish oil supplementation, there are many more reasons why I might recommend fish oil. These include autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, metabolic syndrome (specifically when triglycerides are high), dementia and Alzheimer’s (as well as to prevent these), and many more.
Before you go reaching for fish oil, it’s best that you have a professional assess your personal need for it, as well as the magnitude of benefit that you may get from supplementing. Dosage, ratio of EPA to DHA, and risk of side effects must all be considered. Additionally, the quality of the fish oil is of the utmost importance, and it’s very hard for consumers to know which brands can be trusted – unless they’re fresh (some will go bad very quickly and lose their therapeutic value), from a toxin-free source (impure fish oil can contain a lot of heavy metals, especially mercury), and absorbable (a major issue with any supplement), you could be doing yourself more harm than good by taking them.
In my clinic, I do a simple blood test to measure the percentage of fatty acids in an individual’s red blood cells. Measurements include the Omega-3 Index and Omega-3 score to assess for heart disease risk, the ratio of Arachidonic Acid (AA) to Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) as a marker of inflammation, total Omega-3 fatty acids, total Omega-6 fatty acids along with mono-unsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, and saturated fats. I like this test because measurement of fatty acid content in red blood cell membranes shows less biological variability than other measurements of omegas in the body (like plasma or serum).
Book yourself a visit with me for more information. It’s important to have a guide when it comes to choosing the right fish oil for you. Distance consults within Ontario are available here: