What science has to say about fish oil.

Posted by Daniel Patrick on

The debate about the benefits of fish oil is as contentious and divisive as that between fats vs carbohydrates. Both camps hold strong arguments, elements of conventional wisdom, and have the weight of entire industries behind them.

Spoiler Alert. If you don't have time this is the short-short version.

  • EPA and DHA are critical to your health and the best way to get it is from eating oily fish or taking fish oil supplements. EPA and DHA found in fish oil do support cellular structure, nervous system, inflammatory response, energy, and gene expression. The exact health benefits of taking fish oil supplements are still yet to be fully understood.

For a deeper dive into the facts we turn to The Linus Pauling Institute, though we encourage you to visit their website for first hand tour of the information. (Link to Linus Pauling Institute on Essential Fatty Acids)

  • EPA and DHA are critical to human health
  • EPA and DHA are only introduced through diet
  • The only practical way to introduce EPA and DHA into the diety is through consumption of marine life or supplements
    • EPA and DHA can be metabolized from ALA (found in flax and chia seed for example) but is very inefficient and thus not practical
  • EPA and DHA play vital roles in
    • cellular structure
    • nervous system health
    • inflammatory response
    • chemical signaling
    • energy production and storage
    • gene expression
  • EPA and DHA may be beneficial to
    • Visual and neurological health
      • last trimester and first six months of postnatal life are critical periods for accumulation of DHA in the brain and retina
      • Eating moderate amounts of fish (1-2 servings weekly) during pregnancy and lactation outweigh any risks of contaminant exposure, though fish with high levels of methyl-mercury should be avoided (see for information on contaminants in fish)
    • Cardiovascular health
      • Research varies on the benefits if any on major cardiovascular endpoints
      • REDUCE-IT study won FDA approval for Vascepa (Icosapent Ethyl) which is not fish oil but a highly refined EPA from fish oil to reduce triglyceride levels in adult patients with severe hypertriglyceridemia (Link to REDUCE-IT Trial).
        • High triglycerides are associated with ischemic attacks which reduce blood flow to tissues which kills the cells.
    • Diabetes
      • The American Diabetes Association recommends that diabetic individuals increase omega-3 fatty acid consumption by consuming two to three 3-oz servings of fish weekly
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
      • high-dose supplementation of long chain omega-3 PUFA may reduce need for anti-infammatory medication and may reduce joint pain and swelling in some RA patients
    • Major depressive and bipolar disorder
      • (possible positive effect as an adjunct to therapy more studies required)
    • Alzheimer's and Dementia
      • (DHA deficiency associated with Alzheimer's and dementia but supplements yet to show efficacy to prevent)

The Linus Pauling Institute is located at Oregon State University with a focus on health maintenance. The mission statement is to determine the functional roles of micro-nutrients and phytochemicals in promoting optimal health and to treat or prevent human disease, and to determine the role of oxidative stress and inflammation in health and disease.




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