Why should I take a fish oil supplement?
Will taking fish oil supplements make you healthier? Perhaps the real question you should be asking yourself is ‘Why am I not taking a fish oil supplement?’
There is an undeniable volume of evidence supporting the various health benefits associated with oily fish intake, but it's estimated two out of three people don’t manage to eat the recommended twice weekly portions of oil fish, published by the Department of Health UK[i].
Whether it’s down to the sight, taste, smell or cost, or even having the knowledge and confidence to cook, eating oily fish may not always be a practical option for some people.
Fortunately, there is an alternative - taking a daily fish supplement, either as an oil or capsule, can provide you with the required essential omega fatty acids 3, 6 & 9 as well as DHA and EPA in one easy daily application, making it easier to incorporate into your diet.
Here are some of the health benefits linked to supplementing with fish:
1. Cardiovascular Health - Omega 3 fatty acids, DHA in particular, have been associated with a significant reduction in coronary heart disease. A reputable study of 11,323 post myocardial infarction patients, found that supplementing with 1g of oil fish daily decreased the risk of cardiovascular death by 30% after one year[ii].
2. Mental Health - Deficiency of omega 3 and 6 has been implicated in a wide range of mental health disorders. Both play an important role in neurological functioning. A review of 21 clinical trials found symptoms of depression significantly improved when subjects supplemented daily with omega 3’s[iii].
3. Pain and Inflammation - Good fish oils will contain high levels of omega 3’s, these essential fatty acids play an important role regulating inflammatory responses. Supplementing with a fish oil can help correct a pro-inflammatory imbalance in the body, which is often the reason for pain and discomfort.
4. Skin Health - Omega fatty acids offer potent anti-inflammatory properties. Investigation in to fish oil consumption found significant improvement in symptoms associated with atopic eczema, such as itching, scaling and redness[iv]. These essential fats have also shown to reduce skin damage, caused by prolonged exposure to the sun[v].
5. Pregnancy and Lactation - Mothers who take fish oil supplements during pregnancy could lower the risk of premature birth, increase the length of pregnancy and birth weight, and improve child neurological development. A trial of 533 healthy women supplementing with fish oil from the 30th week of gestation, lowered the risk of premature birth by 40% to 50%, increased the length of pregnancy by 4 days and resulted in babies with a 107-gram higher birth weight[vi].
To summarise, there are plenty of recommendations to consume oily fish but fish oil supplements can be considered a healthy alternative if you don’t like fish or can’t get enough in your diet.
And for those of you who are vegan and vegetarian, you still have the option of benefiting from these important nutrients. Flaxseed oil is a great source of essential omega’s 3, 6 and 9, and marine algae offers a source of the important EPA and DHA. A good omega product will provide a vegan friendly oil containing both components.
Author: Katie Bell, MSc BSc. Katie is a nutritionist and biochemist. She is working as a Technical Service Assistant at Viridian Nutrition.
[i] "New National Diet And Nutrition Survey Shows UK Population Is Eating Too Much Sugar, Saturated Fat And Salt - GOV.UK". Gov.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.
[ii] Dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E after myocardial infarction: results of the GISSI-Prevenzione trial. Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell'Infarto miocardico. Lancet. 1999 Aug 7;354(9177):447-55.
[iii] Kraguljac NV, Montori VM, Pavuluri M,et al. Efficacy of omega-3 Fatty acids in mood disorders - a systematic review and metaanalysis. Psychopharmacol Bull. 2009;42(3):39-54.
[iv] Koch C, Dölle S, Metzger M,et al. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in atopic eczema: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Br J Dermatol. 2008 Apr;158(4):786-92.
[v] Sies H, Stahl W. Nutritional protection against skin damage from sunlight. Annu Rev Nutr. 2004; 24:173-200.
[vi] Olsen SF, Sørensen JD, Secher NJ, et al. Randomised controlled trial of effect of fish-oil supplementation on pregnancy duration. Lancet. 1992 Apr 25;339(8800):1003-7.