Beyond The Hype: The Facts About Fish Oil You Need To Know

While you can’t pop a pill and be granted perfect health, research has found a supplement that could help many people fight a number of ailments. From heart disease to arthritis, a high quality fish oil supplement could be the answer to your problems.

In particular, studies show that taking fish oil may help decrease triglycerides in your blood, which is key to combating coronary heart disease. There is some evidence to suggest it may aid in fighting glaucoma, high blood pressure and even ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Fish oil may also reduce inflammation, and daily intake has been linked to a lower risk of sudden heart failure. This affects people with arthritis and inflammatory disease as well as those at risk for heart disease.

Omega essentials

Before you swallow that (sometimes fishy-smelling) pill, though, let’s look at what’s in it and why it might–or might not–work for you. Fish oil contains omega-3 (and omega-6) essential fatty acids, something your body needs but can’t make on its own. American diets tend to include fewer of these fatty acids than other cuisines, such as Mediterranean or Asian, because they’re primarily found in cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovy and mackerel.

In general, you can expect to get about one gram of omega-3 fatty acids in about 3.5 ounces of fish. But if you don’t eat cold water fish regularly, many physicians will encourage you to take a fish oil supplement.

What to buy

All fish oil supplements are not created equal, so it’s important to use fish oil from a reputable source. That’s why some physicians recommend a prescription fish oil, even though over-the-counter options are readily available.

If you do choose to go with an over-the-counter product, look for the words “laboratory-sourced” on the label, and don’t buy the giant warehouse-sized bottle to save money. Over time, fish oil can get oxidized and go rancid, rendering it useless. If your bottle has a distinct fishy odor, it may be past its prime. Store your supplement in a cool, dark area and pay attention to the expiration date on the bottle.

Also, heed your doctor’s recommendations for how much fish oil to add to your diet. You may need to watch out for mercury levels and be sure your fish oil is sourced from small fish, not large.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that anyone with a family history of prostate cancer should talk to his or her doctor about using the supplement, as there may be an increased incidence of a more aggressive form of prostate cancer among men who have taken fish oil.

Regular usage

A commitment to taking the fish oil supplements regularly is important. Taking a supplement is an investment for your health, like taking baby aspirin for stroke.

In fact, many experts think the pro-fish oil evidence is pretty compelling for patients who fit the risk factors for certain diseases and also eat a diet that is low in cold-water fish. But taking a fish oil supplement is an added step for improving your health–not a substitute for eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and not smoking.

Beyond fish

Fish and fish oil supplements aren’t the only sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Here are some other foods that can provide them:

  • Flax seed
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Cauliflower
  • Tofu
  • Soybeans
  • Kale
  • Packaged foods fortified with omega-3s