What’s So Special About Fish Oil?


What’s so special about fish oil? It’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. These must come from food since our bodies can’t make them.

The two key omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3s. Some plants are rich in another type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid, which the body can convert to DHA and EPA. Good sources of these are flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and canola oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids play important roles in brain function, normal growth and development, and inflammation. Deficiencies have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers, mood disorders, arthritis, and more. But that doesn’t mean taking high doses translates to better health and disease prevention.

Fish oil supplements have been promoted as an easy way to protect the heart, ease inflammation, improve mental health, and lengthen life. Such claims are one reason why Americans spend more than $1 billion a year on over-the-counter fish oil. And food companies are adding it to milk, yogurt, cereal, chocolate, cookies, juice, and hundreds of other foods.

But the evidence for improving heart health is mixed. In November 2018, a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements did nothing to reduce heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from heart disease in middle-aged men and women without any known risk factors for heart disease. Earlier research reported in the same journal in 2013 also reported no benefit in people with risk factors for heart disease.

However, when researchers looked at subgroups of people who don’t eat any fish, the results suggested they may reduce their cardiovascular risk by taking a fish oil supplement.

When it comes to diving into the debate over fish oil we’re really talking about the active ingredients of Omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers are focusing on DHA and EPA components of Omega-3s. They are essential nutrients we need and we get them from the foods we eat.

“We have to recognize not all fish oil is Omega 3s. The component of interest is actually Omega-3,” said Viet Le, PA-C, a cardiovascular physician assistant at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute. 

To learn more visit Intermountain Healthcare now.

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