What Is the Purpose of Fish Oil?

Fish oil can be obtained through fish or fish oil supplements.

Fish oil can be obtained through fish or fish oil supplements.

From cardiovascular to cognitive effects, news about research into the benefits of fish oil has bombarded televisions and computers, and with good reason. With its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, fish oil has shown many positive effects on the body.

Heart-Healthy Effects

An analysis of various studies and clinical trials published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" in 2006 showed that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of death related to cardiovascular disease. This is likely a result of their ability to lower plasma triglyceride levels and blood pressure, along with their anti-arrythmic and anti-thrombotic effects. For example, a study from the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2000 showed that 4 grams per day of EPA decreased triglyceride levels by 23 percent in some patients.

A Sea of Benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for the transmission of signals within the brain, a well-functioning nervous system and healthy brain development in babies. A review of 15 trials, which was published in the "Journal of Clinical Psychiatry" in 2011, found that supplements with at least 60 percent EPA improved depression symptoms. Evidence on the positive effects of fish oil supplementation on asthma, inflammatory diseases, food allergies and the risk of certain cancers have also been noted.

Recommendations for Fish Oil

To reap the benefits of fish oil, the American Heart Association recommends consuming two servings or 8 ounces of fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon and sardines, per week or about 500 milligrams per day of EPA and DHA. However, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 1999-2000 showed a mean intake of only 100 milligrams per day of EPA/DHA among participants. This may be due to individual food preferences, access or economic restraints.

Alternative Sources of Fish Oil

Ideally, the recommendations for EPA and DHA should be met through eating a healthy, balanced diet. However, foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, such as yogurt, milk or eggs, and fish oil supplements are also available. The Food and Drug Administration has set the “generally regarded as safe” level for omega-3 fatty acids at 3 grams per day. Due to the risk of bleeding and medication interactions with high intakes of omega-3 fatty acids, consult your physician to make sure a fish oil supplement is safe for you.

 

References

  • Journal of the American Dietetic Association; Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Dietary Fatty Acids
  • Journal of the American Dietetic Association; N-3 Fatty Acids: Food or Supplements?; Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD; Alison M. Hill, PhD
  • Journal of the American Dietetic Association; A Systemic Review of the Roles of n-3 Fatty Acids in Health and Disease; Natalie D. Riediger, MSc; Rgia A. Othman, MSc; Miyoung Suh, PhD, RD; Mohammed H. Moghadasian, PhD
  • Today's Dietitian: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders

About the Author

Alexa McDonald is a licensed, registered dietitian with a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from the University of Maryland, College Park. She completed her dietetic internship through ARAMARK. McDonald has worked in clinical and community settings with a main focus in weight management, menu planning/labeling, food allergies and sports nutrition.

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