Updated: Jun 21, 2019
A quick overview of Fish Oils/Omega 3s
What is fish oil and why do I keep hearing about them?
Fish oil is derived from the tissue of oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, tuna & salmon. They are an essential supplement needed because our body does not produce them. Fish oil is the most widely available source of DHA and EPA. Omega 3s can also be found in Flax Seeds and other vegetable/nut sources however they are ALA and not the same as EPA or DHA. Your body can convert a very small amount of ALA over to be used not enough to have the same effect as fish oils. Do not be confused by packing which advertising "omega 3s" on flax seeds or grains. They cannot be used by your body the same way as DHA and EPA.
What are DHA and EPA?
They are OMEGA-3 fatty acids.
EPA - eicosapentaenoic acid
DHA - docosahexaenoic acid
It's a complicated process but to keep it simple EPA helps with cellular inflammation by cutting off production of Arachidonic acid (AA) which is pro-inflammatory. They say if you have high enough levels of EPA you can create the same benefits as corticosteroids (cortisone shots and prednisone) without the adrenal side effects. .
There are high levels of DHA in the brain. The size of DHA helps it create a fluid membrane in the brain helping neurons communicate better with each other.
Although both have no effect on total cholesterol levels, DHA can increase the size of LDL (bad cholesterol) particle to a greater extent than can EPA reducing the entry of enlarged LDL particles into the muscle cells that line the artery, thus reducing the likelihood of build up of fat and cholesterol. This is why taking Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce total cholesterol, as well as change the ratio of particle size of cholesterol.
Why do we need to consume OMEGA-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids may work by decreasing the amount of triglycerides and other fats made in the liver. ¹ They help inflammation and can protect the blood brain barrier .4
What does that mean for you?
It means a reduction in inflammation, prevention of heart disease, relief in symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis help with fetal growth during pregnancy . ² As well as protect the blood-borne bacteria, toxins and other pathogens. After a concussion fish oils at therapeutic doses have been shown to be helpful in reducing inflammation in the brain. A therapeutic dose is about 4g a day.
Moderate evidence shows that consumption of about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood, which provide an average consumption of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA, is associated with reduced cardiac deaths among individuals with and without pre-existing cardiovascular disease. ³ There is also evidence of omega 3s helping with neuromuscular function, athletic performance, weight loss, and mental conditions such as ADHD and Anxiety.
New studies in athletes have shown high doses of fish oils (3-4g) to help with recovery or prevention of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). For active populations it means less pain from inflammation as well as possible reduction in DOMS.
Keep in mind if you use high-dose DHA it is essential to add back trace amounts of GLA to maintain sufficient levels of DGLA to continue to produce anti-inflammatory eicosanoids.
What type of fish oils should you buy?
EPA/DHA fish oil from a cold clean water source with an added antioxidant such as vitamin E or citrus oil to minimize or eliminate “fish burp” (have no fear the good brands do not have fish burp). Trusted brands, such as Barlean’s or Nordic Naturals, have quality fish oils. You can find them in a liquid or a pill. Liquid is usually more potent but pills are easier to travel with. Look for a dark color bottle, avoid clear bottles where the UV light can enter the bottle and oxidize the oil turning it rancid. Store the oil in your fridge and buy smaller bottle to prevent the oil from going bad.
How much do I take ?
Average, general population should take 1g a day which is usually one serving found on the bottles. Athletes, those recovering from injury or concussion or chronic inflammation should take therapeutic doses of 3-4g a day. Studies have shown no increase advantage after 4g.
Fish oils are absorbed through fat which means it is best to take them along with your most “fattening” meal of the day for best absorption. I usually recommend taking them with dinner. In addition, enzymes act as catalysts in the omega-3 & -6 conversions.
The most important co-factors for omega-3 metabolism are:
vitamins: B6, B12, biotin, niacin, folic acid, minerals: zinc, magnesium and selenium.
Reputable sources for fish oils you can find at Whole Foods, Sprouts or your local health food store in the refrigerated area of the supplement section.
If you are a drug tested athlete you need Fish oils that are NSF for Sport