Many people take fish oil supplements as a home remedy, and this may be you as well. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 80% of Americans regularly consume these supplements, making this “fishy” business a billion dollar industry. Despite the popularity of fish oil supplements, however, many conflicting claims exist regarding their purported benefits. So which of these claims can we trust? Let’s explore this guide to the complicated world of research surrounding fish oil supplements.
WHY FISH OIL?
Fish oil is the fat or oil extracted from the tissue of oily fish, such as herring, tuna, anchovies and mackerel. Oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, a vital nutrient that the body cannot manufacture on its own. Because regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to protect against many diseases, the World Health Organization recommends 1-2 servings of fish per week. If you don’t consume fish regularly, a fish oil supplement could be a good option. Typically, these supplements contain 30% omega-3 fatty acids with the remaining 70% is other fats, as well as some Vitamin A and Vitamin D.
THE BENEFITS OF FISH OIL
Science has established that fish oil supplements can provide several clear benefits, including improved cardiac health. Heart disease is the leading worldwide cause of death and is often offset by high blood pressure. Multiple studies correlate fish oil supplements with modest improvements in blood pressure, especially those with moderate to severe hypertension.
Strong evidence proves that fish oil supplements reduce the triglyceride count in the blood, which is another negative factor to your cardiac health. However, it is essential to note that over-the-counter fish oil supplements are not the same as those prescribed by doctors specifically to treat high triglyceride counts. If your triglyceride count is a problem, your doctor will prescribe a particular fish oil supplement containing a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil supplements are also quite beneficial for pregnant women. Omega-3 fatty acids boost fetal development, improving infants’ hand-eye coordination, visual development and resistance to allergies. According to a 2011 study, consuming fish oil during pregnancy eventually improved memory among school-aged children.
Supplements also reduce women’s postpartum depression, according to a 2018 study. All these benefits can be obtained much more safely for pregnant women through supplements since consuming supplements is far less likely to result in mercury poisoning than consuming fish.
AMBIGUITIES AND SIDE EFFECTS
Unfortunately, several other concerns complicate the usefulness of fish oil supplements. People with specific health issues should avoid fish oil supplements unless directed otherwise by their doctor. For instance, supplements have an unhelpful effect on blood cholesterol. Research indicates that they raise both “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, meaning that supplements do not help those already struggling with high levels of bad cholesterol. The effect of fish oil on prostate cancer also remains unclear, as studies have linked supplement consumption to both increased and decreased risk.
It’s worth noting that the supplements may also produce side effects, especially in people who consume an excess of three grams per day. Though nonthreatening, these side effects (such as bad breath, heartburn, nausea, dirherea, rash and belching) may be a bit unpleasant for you. Though fish oil can improve specific conditions that could lead to heart attack, a 2018 study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that fish oil consumption did not ultimately reduce the risk of a heart attack in those who were not already suffering from increased risk. Since you may be losing out on other nutrients available in actual fish, consuming fish oil supplements might not result in the net benefit you imagine.
Though generally safe, there are a few situations where consuming fish oil supplements can be downright dangerous. For example, fish oil supplements can interact with anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin to increase your risk of bleeding. Since supplements are unregulated by the FDA, you should also confirm that your fish oil provider is reputable, as second-rate companies sometimes produce supplements with pollutants. You should also avoid consuming an excess of the recommended three grams per day, as the concentrations of Vitamin A found in many fish oil supplements can be toxic in high doses.
SUPPLEMENTS:FRIEND OR FOE?
If you are among the 80% of Americans who consume fish oil supplements regularly, consider re-evaluating the usefulness of your investment. You should consult your doctor before adopting a fish oil regimen. If you take an anticoagulant drug like warfarin, or if you have high levels of bad cholesterol, these supplements might turn out to be a fishy foe. Armed with your new mastery of the fish oil debate, make your dietary supplement choices carefully!