How taking fish oil may help fight inflammation and improve mental health

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  • The benefits of fish oil come mainly from its ability to reduce inflammation in your body.
  • This makes it ideal for boosting heart health, especially for people with preexisting heart issues.
  • Fish oil may also help fight off depression because it can increase serotonin levels.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Fish oil is a natural oil found in fatty fish like salmon, herring, and sardines. But you can also take it as a supplement.

The majority of health benefits in fish oil comes from the omega-3 fatty acids it contains, which help support the heart, brain, and general wellbeing.

Here’s what researchers have found so far on the health benefits of consuming fish oil regularly.

1. Helps fight inflammation

Fish is one of the best providers of omega-3 fatty acids – a category of fats that you might be lacking in your diet.

“Americans typically have a much higher intake of omega-6 fats which are prevalent in refined vegetable oils from soybeans, corn and sunflower seeds,” says Julie Stefanski, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Omega-6 acids aren’t necessarily bad for you, but the ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats is important for your health. Having enough omega-6 fats but too little omega-3 fats can put you at risk for chronic inflammation, Stefanski says.

Fighting chronic inflammation is vital, since inflammation can increase your risk of diseases like cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.

2. Supports heart health

Taking fish oil may help boost heart health, especially for people already suffering from heart problems.

A 2017 review found that taking fish oil supplements can help prevent heart attacks in people with coronary artery disease. The researchers also found that regularly consuming fish oil reduced the risk of hospitalization in people with heart failure– however, they say more research is needed to confirm these results.

This may be partly due to the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil. “Reducing inflammation is a key factor in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease,” Stefanski says.

To get heart health benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish like salmon per week. One serving is ¾ cup or 99.22g of cooked fish.

3. May improve brain function

Your brain uses the omega-3 fats in fish oil, among other nutrients, to build brain cells, which is especially important as you age.

For example, studies have shown that people with degenerative neurological disorders often have low levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – a type of omega-3 fatty acid.

That might explain why a 2010 study found that older adults who took 900 mg of DHA supplements daily for six months performed better on memory and learning tests than those without any treatment.

4. May help improve mental health

Depression has been linked to higher levels of inflammation, therefore fish oil’s anti-inflammatory properties may help fight off mental health issues like depression.

A 2016 review of 13 studies found that taking omega-3 supplements helps to improve depression symptoms like sadness and fatigue by reducing inflammation in your brain cells.

EPA fatty acids, one of the main acids in fish oil, are especially helpful for depression because they increase your levels of serotonin, an important mood-boosting chemical. So it may be best to look for fish oil supplements with a “high EPA” label.

The review also found that omega-3 supplements work especially well when combined with antidepressants.

5. Supports fetus development during pregnancy

Fish oil provides nutrients that are essential for the development of the baby and the health of the parent, Stefanski says.

Studies show that taking daily fish oil supplements with at least 300 mg of DHA during pregnancy can help a baby’s healthy development by:

  • Supporting vision development
  • Improving the development of brain functions
  • Lowering the risk of allergies

But it’s important to know that some fish contain relatively high levels of mercury, which can damage a fetus’s developing brain and nervous system. This is why experts recommend avoiding large fish like swordfish, king mackerel, and shark. Smaller fish like salmon, light tuna, and sardines tend to have a lower risk.

“Some women who are concerned about mercury levels in fish may choose to avoid fish during pregnancy and turn to supplements,” Stefanski says. If you decide to use supplements, look for products that conduct third-party testing for mercury content, Stefanski says, as this can provide a more accurate measure of mercury levels.

Insider’s takeaway

Fish oil can have a variety of health benefits thanks to its rich supply of omega-3 fatty acids. Adding fish to your diet or taking daily supplements may help improve your heart and brain health, as well as support a healthy pregnancy.

You can get fish oil in your diet by eating fish every week or by taking daily supplements.

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