Practically every single patient at the Whitaker Wellness Institute is “prescribed” fish oil. Why? Because fish oil is a powerful natural medicine for disorders ranging from heart disease and depression to arthritis and autoimmune disorders.
Many fish oil benefits likely stem from its main constituents EPA and DHA. EPA is particularly beneficial for the cardiovascular system and is also an excellent natural anti-inflammatory. DHA is one of the principal fats in the cells of the brain, where it enhances nerve cell communication and provides fuel for the neurons’ mitochondria. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s delve deeper into some specific health benefits of fish oil.
Fish Oil: Powerful Cardiovascular Protection
Fish oil is one of the most extensively studied of all nutritional supplements. We’ve known about its cardioprotective effects since the 1970s, when researchers connected the dots between the exceptionally low incidence of heart disease in Eskimos in Greenland and their diet, which consisted mainly of omega-3–rich fish and marine mammals.
Now we know that these fatty acids reduce inflammation, enhance vascular health, discourage platelets from clumping together, lower levels of triglycerides, and help prevent cardiac arrhythmias. Epidemiological studies demonstrate solid relationships between increased fish consumption and decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and numerous clinical trials involving supplemental fish oil have similar results. I recommend that everyone, regardless of health status, take a minimum of 2,000 mg of high-quality fish oil per day. For cardiovascular concerns, I recommend 2,000-5,000 mg of fish oil per day. (For larger doses, look for liquid or concentrated fish oil supplements—they beat taking handfuls of capsules.)
Help for Cognitive Function, Depression, and More
The omega-3s found in fish oil are also vital for optimal brain function. DHA, among the most abundant fats in the brain, is an integral structural component of brain cell membranes. In population studies, a hearty intake of omega-3s is associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in older individuals, and supplementing with DHA or fish oil in middle age or earlier may well reduce risk of memory impairment later in life.
Depression is also associated with lower levels of omega-3s. In one study, 41 percent of depressed older women who took high doses of EPA and DHA for eight weeks had remission of their depression, compared to just 18 percent in a placebo group.
Furthermore, fish oil’s potent anti-inflammatory effects make it an invaluable supplement for a broad range of inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, lupus, and psoriasis. Research suggests it’s also helpful for osteoarthritis, asthma, osteoporosis, and cystic fibrosis. Again, aim for a daily dose of at least 2,000-5,000 mg.
Fish Oil Benefits People With Diabetes
For years, people with type 2 diabetes were advised to avoid fish oil supplements, due to their presumably negative effects on blood sugar control. However, a landmark meta-analysis put this myth to rest. In this review of studies involving 823 patients with type 2 diabetes, fish oil supplementation at doses ranging from 3,000 to 18,000 mg per day had no harmful effect on short- or long-term blood glucose control—and significantly improved triglyceride levels.
More recent research found that women with diabetes who took 3,000 mg of fish oil a day for two months had significant improvements in body fat and blood lipid levels. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to decrease the risk of type 1 diabetes in genetically at-risk children.
All of these health benefits of fish oil make it a top supplement for the prevention and treatment of numerous complications associated with the diabetic condition. If your cholesterol and triglycerides are high, consider taking 4,000-5,000 mg daily.
Fish Oil as an Adjunct Cancer Therapy
The health benefits of fish oil don’t end here. Turns out, fish oil benefits people undergoing cancer treatment as well. Study results published in the journal Cancer revealed that people who took fish oil while receiving chemotherapy treatment were able to stave off weight loss and muscle deterioration.
Folks, this is a big deal. Muscle wasting and weight loss during chronic illnesses, called cachexia, is a huge problem for people dealing with cancer. And in this particular study, nearly 70 percent of the participants who took fish oil either gained or maintained their muscle mass.
This is wonderful news. Whenever a nutritional supplement shows benefits like these, I’m even more excited about getting the word out. The dose used in the study was around 2,000 mg daily.
Does the Source of Omega-3s Matter?
Fish oil isn’t the only source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. In fact, some manufacturers of the newer products have been bad-mouthing fish oil. But don’t worry. Although the newcomers are trying to grab a share of the omega-3 market, the truth is that krill, squid, and fish oil are all excellent sources of EPA and DHA, the most important forms of omega-3s. They’re all just a little different.
Krill oil, which comes from tiny shrimp-like crustaceans, provides phospholipid-bound omega-3s, while fish and squid oils provide triglyceride-bound omega-3s. Some research suggests that phospholipid omega-3s are more readily absorbed, and that could translate into higher potency. Squid also produce quality omega-3s, which are higher in DHA than either krill or fish oil. But the vast majority of research documenting the health benefits of omega-3s has utilized good old-fashioned fish oil, and it remains the best-studied, least expensive, and most popular form.
What all this means is that you really can’t go wrong, so choose your omega-3 source according to your personal preferences (people allergic to shellfish should avoid krill; those looking for higher DHA concentrations should favor squid, etc.). Just make sure you use products from reputable manufacturers that are guaranteed for purity, and aim for 2,000–5,000 mg per day.
Eat Plenty of Fish Too
In addition to using a high quality krill, squid, or fish oil daily, you should also eat a few servings of cold-water, low-mercury fish per week to ensure you are reaping all of the health benefits of omega-3s. Safe species include (but are not limited to) flounder, herring, wild salmon, sole, and trout. To keep your fish dishes healthy, the best preparation methods are baking, sautéing, or grilling.
Health Benefits of Fish Oil Recap
So there you have it, the bountiful benefits of fish oil. It’s truly one of the most versatile and effective supplements out there and one I recommend that everyone add to their daily regimen.