Fish Oil Facts: Everything You Need to Know

By:    Published: June 21, 2012

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It may not sound very appealing to your taste buds, but fish oil is actually packed with a range of great health benefits. Fortunately, if you're not big on eating fish, fish oil is also readily available as a supplement in pill form. These oils, which are also known as omega-3 fatty acids, are an easy way to boost your health in a natural and safe way. In this article, we'll explore the many health benefits of fish oil, where you can find it and how much you should be taking each day.

What Does Fish Oil Do?

Though it has been linked to several health benefits, fish oil is most commonly associated with heart health. Consuming fish oil has been proven to lower fats called triglycerides, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. In some studies, fish oil was shown to lower triglyceride levels by 20% to 50%, which is essential for preventing heart disease. Keep in mind, however, that in addition to taking fish oil, individuals who want to lower their risk for heart disease should also increase their physical activity and reduce the amount of fat in their diets.

In addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, fish oil can also make minor reductions in some people's blood pressure levels. That's because omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to expand blood vessels, alleviating high blood pressure. This also helps people with atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty materials build up along the artery walls, which can potentially block the arteries and lead to a heart attack or blood clot. Consuming fish oil can help to relieve this problem by preventing the narrowing of the arteries and reducing the production of the fatty materials that may collect on its walls.

There are a number of other health benefits that have been linked to fish oil. For example, fish oil may help individuals with rheumatoid arthritis to recover faster from the stiffness they feel when they wake up in the morning. Fish oil can also reduce the risk of having a stroke by as much as 27%, though this reduction is not nearly as dramatic if an individual is already taking aspirin for this purpose. Taking fish oil regularly may also prevent the onset of osteoporosis, especially when combined with a regular calcium regimen. Fish oil is also linked to eye health because it can help to prevent age-related macular degeneration and chronic dry eye syndrome.

Finally, fish oil can also help with brain function. Some studies suggest that fish oil can help to reduce the symptoms related to depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder when taken in addition to prescription medications for these conditions. Additionally, many children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) seem to have lower levels of certain fatty acids. The link between taking fish oil and improving the symptoms of ADHD are still unclear, but many physicians recommend it for children who have this condition.

Food Sources Of Fish Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for human health, but there's one problem: Your body can't make them on its own. That's why we have to get them from food or supplements. Sensibly, fish oil can be found naturally in fish, and there is a wide variety of fish that contain significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Among the more common fish that are rich in these oils are tuna, salmon, anchovies, sardines and trout. Other fish, which may be less common but that are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are mackerel, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, herring and menhaden. In general, you will obtain about 1 gram of fish oil for every 3.5 ounces of fish that you consume. Keep in mind that it is far better to eat fish that has been baked or broiled; fish that has been fried may actually increase health risks rather than reduce them.

As mentioned before, you don't have to eat fish regularly to get the omega-3 fatty acids that you want in your diet. Fish oil supplements are readily available at most health stores and pharmacies in pill form. Most of these supplements are made from the fish oil from mackerel, halibut, cod liver, salmon, whale blubber, seal blubber or tuna. These supplements are often combined with vitamin E to make sure that they don't spoil. Be sure to check the label carefully before purchasing a fish oil supplement, since many are also combined with other vitamins, calcium or iron. If you plan to add a fish oil supplement to your diet, then talk to your physician first to make sure that the supplement is safe for you.

Side Effects

Fish oil may cause some minor side effects such as gas, bloating, belching or diarrhea. If you're taking a supplement, then look for time-release caplets to reduce these symptoms. Also, do not take more than 3 grams of fish oil daily without first consulting a physician.

Certain medications, such as blood thinners, diabetes medications, cholesterol-lowering medications, topical steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs may have interactions when combined with fish oil. Be sure to ask your doctor about taking fish oil if you have been prescribed any of these medications.

Deficiency Symptoms

It's important to ensure that you diet contains a sufficient amount of fish oil. A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to symptoms like poor memory, fatigue, dry skin, mood swings, depression, poor circulation and heart problems. Additionally, infants who don't receive an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy may develop vision and nerve problems.

Daily Dosage Recommendations

There isn't an established dosage recommendation for children. In general, fish oil supplements are not recommended for children at all. While it is healthy for children to receive omega-3 fatty acids naturally by eating fish, do not serve children any fish that may be have a high mercury content, such as swordfish or mackerel.

Adults should try to consume fish regularly for its many health benefits. When it comes to supplements, most adults should not take more than 3 grams of fish oil daily without first consulting a physician. Individuals with coronary heart disease or high cholesterol are often encouraged to take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement daily. For healthy adults, eating fish at least twice a week is sufficient for getting the fish oil their need in their diet.

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