Fish oil is the fat extracted from fish tissue. It’s the most consumed dietary supplement.
Oilfish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for your health. They are the starting point of making hormones responsible for blood clotting, inflammation, contraction, and relaxation of artery walls.
Omega-3 fatty acids make about 30% of oilfish; the rest is made up of other fats. Surprisingly, fish oil also has vitamins A and D.
Oilfish contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which may enhance mood and immunity, inflammation and reduce oxidation damage in the body.
Related: Fish oil: Uses, Dosages, Warnings & Side Effects
Research shows that people who eat fish, a source of oil fish, have lower risks of long-term illnesses than those who do not eat fish. For those unable to eat oily fish, fish oil supplements have the same benefits as oily fish.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one should eat 1-2 portions of fish per week to reap the health benefits from omega-3s that protect against many diseases.
Oily fish that contain fish oil include tuna, herring, mackerel, and anchovies. It’s also extracted in the liver of some fish, like cod liver oil produced from codfish.
Benefits of Fish Oil
Some of the health benefits of fish oil are:
Support Heart Health
Heart disease is among the leading causes of death in the world.
Research has shown decreased risk rates of heart disease among people who eat oily fish. It also reduces multiple risks factors for heart diseases like:
- It increases levels of ‘good’ cholesterol known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which helps remove some forms of cholesterol in the bloodstream, which may otherwise cause heart disease. However, there is no evidence that it reduces levels of LDL cholesterol.
- Fish oil helps lower triglycerides by about 15-30%. Triglycerides are fats in the bloodstream that are from the food we eat.
- Fish oil helps reduce blood pressure, especially for people with elevated levels.
- Stops arteries from hardening by preventing plaques. For those with plaques, it makes arterial plaques safer and stable.
- Reduces lethal arrhythmia events – arrhythmias are heart rhythms that are abnormal that sometimes cause a heart attack.
Although fish oil prevents many risk factors associated with heart disease, there is no absolute proof that it prevents strokes or heart attacks.
Inflammation is a way the immune system fights infection and treats wounds and injuries. However, chronic inflammation is often linked to severe diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and depression.
Reducing inflammation can help heal symptoms of these diseases.
Fish oil contains anti-inflammatory properties, which may help treat illnesses caused by chronic inflammation.
For instance, fish oil can reduce gene expression and production of cytokines – inflammatory molecules, in individuals who are obese and stressed.
Fish oil supplements reduce stiffness, joint pain, and painful joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Fish Oil May Help Improve Bone Health
Older people have bone problems; bones at older age lose essential minerals causing them to be more likely to break. This leads to illnesses like osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
Although healthy bones need calcium and vitamin D, some research suggests omega-3 acid is also beneficial for bone health.
Individuals with a higher intake of omega-3 and optimal blood levels have a good bone-mineral density (BMD).
Other studies show that fish oil supplements may prevent bone disease by reducing the risks of bone breakdown. But, it’s not clear if fish oil supplements improve bone-mineral density.
Aid in Weight Loss
A person is considered obese if the body mass index (BMI) is greater than 30. Most adults, about 39%, are considered to be overweight, while only 13% are obese.
Being obese can significantly increase the risk of other diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Studies show that a combination of fish oil supplements, diet, and exercise significantly helps in weight loss.
For instance, a study conducted among young overweight men showed that those who included fish oil supplements in their diet and combined it with exercise lost approximately 1 kg more weight than those who observed diet and exercise alone.
Other studies pointed out that fish oil supplements alone didn’t significantly help reduce weight among obese people, but they did lessen the waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference.
Helps Treat Certain Mental Disorders
The brain consists of about 60% of fat. A large percentage of this fat is omega-3 fatty acids, meaning omega-3s are crucial for normal brain function.
Studies show that individuals with mental disorders such as depression are also found to have low omega-3 blood levels.
Research also states that fish oil supplements help improve some symptoms of some mental disorders. For instance, it can help reduce the progression to psychotic disorders for those at risk.
In addition, bipolar and schizophrenia disorder symptoms can be reduced by supplementing fish oil in high doses.
Support Eye Health
Just like the brain, eyes contain and rely on omega-3 fats. Studies show that people with a deficiency of omega-3s are at greater risk of having eye problems.
Eating oily fish is believed to reduce the risks of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This also implies that eye health (which is also affected by age) can be significantly improved by oilfish.
A study conducted among AMD patients showed that their vision improved after taking a high dose of oilfish for 20 weeks. However, it’s unclear if fish oil supplements have the same effect on eye health.
Helps in Pregnancy and Early Life
Omega 3s contained in fish oil are crucial for early growth and development. Therefore, mothers should take enough omega-3s when pregnant and when breastfeeding.
Supplementing fish oil for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers improves hand-to-eye coordination in infants. However, it is still unclear if IQ and learning are enhanced.
Taking these supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding also helps infant visual development and reduces the risks of allergies.
Benefits of Fish Oil – Bottom Line
As discussed, omega-3s have many benefits, from the normal eye and brain development to fighting inflammation to preventing heart diseases. Those with such disorders can benefit from taking omega-3s.
Eating fish is as effective as taking fish oil, so taking 1-2 portions of fish weekly is recommended. For those who don’t eat fish, oilfish supplements are a good alternative.