Fish oil is, of course, oil that is derived from tissues of fatty fish. The most common fish used to make fish oil supplements are sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and salmon.
The raw fish are first cut into pieces and are then steam cooked. The cooked fish is then placed into a centrifuge that separates the fat-free solids from the liquids (oil and water).
The solids usually go on to be used in animal feed, whereas the liquids undergo the additional step of having the water removed until all the remains is the fish oil.
Finally, the fish oil is purified (ideally through molecular distillation) to remove any remaining toxins or contaminants. The purified oil is then bottled, usually after first being placed in a soft gel capsule.
What Is The Purpose Of Fish Oil?
Fish oil is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two essential fatty acids that many Americans are deficient in.
Adequate EPA and DHA intake has numerous health benefits, while a deficiency poses numerous health threats. Since most of us don't get sufficient amounts of omega-3's through our diets, supplementing with an omega-3 supplement like fish oil is a logical and convenient solution.
Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Acid
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA or also icosapentaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid. In physiological literature, it is given the name 20:5(n-3). It also has the trivial name timnodonic acid. EPA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that acts as a precursor for prostaglandin-3 (which inhibits platelet aggregation), thromboxane-3, and leukotriene-5 groups (all eicosanoids).
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid. In chemical structure, DHA is a carboxylic acid with a 22-carbon chain and six cis double bonds; the first double bond is located at the third carbon from the omega end. Its trivial name is cervonic acid, its systematic name is all-cis-docosa-4,7,10,13,16,19-hexa-enoic acid, and its shorthand name is 22:6(n-3) in the nomenclature of fatty acids.
Why Fish Oil Over Other Sources?
Let me make it clear that I am certainly not against popular omega-3 plant sources like flax seed. I regularly use flax seed not only as a source of omega-3's, but also a great source of fiber. Having said that, fish oil is better choice to meet your EPA and DHA needs, and this is for a few reasons.
Flax seed does not contain EPA or DHA, but instead contains a fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is converted by the body into EPA and DHA, however the amount converted may not be adequate. (Stoll, 2001)
The conversion process is also inhibited by alcohol consumption, common vitamin/mineral deficiencies, saturated fat intake, disease (most commonly diabetes), and some medications. (Ho, 2003) For all of these reasons and more, fish oil is gram-for-gram a better source of EPA and DHA than flax seed or other plant sources.
The Dangers Of Omega-3 Deficiency
The typical western diet is abundant in omega-6 fatty acids, but rather scarce in omega-3's. This imbalance results in a pro-inflammatory environment within the body. (Beutler, 2002)
Omega-3 deficiency is a risk factor for numerous diseases. Recent research suggests that inadequate omega-3 intake may play a role in up to 96,000 preventable deaths each year in the United States alone. (Danaei, et al. 2009) That is of course a multi-factorial issue, but it is definitely something to ponder.
|Grams Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids In Common Fish|
According to the most recent CDC statistics available, heart disease is still the number one killer in the United States. (Heron, et al. 2006)
While there are many lifestyle choices that place one at risk for heart disease (such as lack of exercise, smoking tobacco, a diet too high in saturated fat, etc.), omega-3 intake is often overlooked.
Use of a fish oil supplement (or a diet that includes fatty fish at least two times per week) can reduce serum triglycerides by up to 30%, regulate cholesterol levels, slow the build-up of plaques that can clog coronary arteries, and decrease the risk of blood clots. (Weil, 2008)
It should be noted that fish oil/omega-3 products are one of the very few dietary supplements that are partially endorsed by the FDA. According to the FDA, "Consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."
There have been numerous studies that have shown fish oil supplementation to be beneficial to those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or joint pain. (Fortin, et al. 1995)
In some cases, fish oil supplementation managed to reduced pain and inflammation even following the cessation of NSAID use. (Volker, et al. 2000)
Rheumatoid arthritis is believed to involve an over-activity of arachidonic acid, which is an inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid. The omega-3's found in fish oil are known to block the formation of these inflammatory omega-3's. (Ni, n.d.)
According to rodent research, a diet rich in omega-3's may slow or even possibly prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Mice fed a diet containing high amounts of DHA showed slowed accumulation of the proteins associated with the plaques implicated in Alzheimer's disease. (Ma, et al. 2007)
Alzheimer's Disease: Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Generally, it is diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, although the less-prevalent early-onset Alzheimer's can occur much earlier. In 2006, there were 26.6 million sufferers worldwide. Alzheimer's is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050.
Another rodent study at Laval University found that mice fed a diet rich in omega-3's seemed to develop immunity to MPTP, which is the neurotoxin that causes the same damage to the brain as Parkinson's does.
This leads the researchers to believe that a diet rich in omega-3's (specifically DHA) may prevent Parkinson's or potentially even prevent the progression of the disease. (Bousquet, et al. 2008)
The other group of mice in this study received a more typical diet (high omega-6 content and low amounts of DHA). These mice lost a significant amount of dopamine producing neurons as a result of the MPTP injections.
This suggests that a diet rich in omega-6's (such as the typical American diet) may provide a fertile environment within the body for Parkinson's to develop.
Parkinson's Disease: Parkinson's disease (also known as Parkinson disease or PD) is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs the sufferer's motor skills, speech, and other functions.
Omega-3's may be helpful when it comes to the treatment and prevention of cancer; particularly breast and prostate cancers.
A study published in 2001 tracked the fatty fish consumption of over 6,000 Swedish males over a period of 30 years.
The researchers found that the men who didn't consume any fish had up to a three-fold higher frequency of prostate cancer than men who reported moderate to high consumption of fatty fish. The researchers say these results suggest regular consumption of fatty fish could reduce the risk of prostate cancer. (Terry, et al. 2001)
A similar follow-up study was published in 2003, this time with the research being conducted on American males. Over 47,000 American men filled out mail-in questionnaires on regular basis for nearly two decades. The researchers found that a high intake of fish was associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer.
To be fair, it should be mentioned that the researchers couldn't definitively say if fish oil supplements would have the same effect as consuming actual fish. This is because only 4% of the men in the study used a fish oil supplement, and the amount and frequency of their supplement use was not recorded. (Augustsson, et al. 2003)
It isn't just men who may benefit from increased fatty fish or omega-3 intake. Animal research dating as far back as 1989 suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish may prevent breast cancer. (Kaizer, et al. 1989)
Numerous studies continue to support the findings from over two decades ago. Preliminary data from a 2009 study suggest that a diet with high omega-3 content alters estrogen metabolism in a direction associated with reducing breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. (Orr, et al. 2009)
Diabetes And Obesity
More research needs to be conducted to determine whether omega-3 fatty acids would be beneficial to diabetics. Research has shown decreased triglyceride levels and improved cholesterol profiles in diabetics (Kaushik, et al. 2009), but decreased peak insulin levels and increased fasting glucose levels have also been noted. (Glauber, et al. 1989)
Omega-3's may be a beneficial tool for weight-loss in obese individuals. Though more research is needed due the small scale and short length of previous studies, it has been suggested that increased omega-3 intake may result is suppressed appetite and adipocyte apoptosis in obese individuals.
Omega-3's may even alter gene expression in a way that results in suppressed fat deposition, increased fat oxidation and energy expenditure. (Buckley & Howe, 2009)
A recent study conducted on over 300 overweight European men ages 20-40 showed that the inclusion of fatty fish or fish oil as part of a calorie restricted diet resulted in an increased amount of weight loss.
The group of men that consumed fatty fish or fish oil lost an average 1kg more weight than the group that did not include fatty fish or fish oil into their diet. These findings suggest that consuming fatty fish or using fish oil supplements may accelerate the results of a weight-loss program. (Thorsdottir, et al. 2007)
Fish oil supplementation (or the regular consumption of fatty fish) is a worthwhile investment in one's self. Given the numerous possible health benefits and the low-cost of fish oil supplements, there is no reason why almost everyone can't or shouldn't ensure that they are consuming adequate amounts of omega-3's from marine sources.
View Fish Oil Products Sorted By Top Seller Here.
- Katarina Augustsson, Dominique S. Michaud, Eric B. Rimm, Michael F. Leitzmann, Meir J. Stampfer, Walter C. Willett ,Edward Giovannucci. (2003). A Prospective study of intake of fish and marine fatty acids and prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 12(64)
- Beutler, J. (2002). Life in balance. Natural medicine online, (108), Retrieved from http://barleans.org/literature/flax/108-natmedonline.pdf
- M. Bousquet, M. Saint-Pierre, C. Julien, N. Salem, Jr., F. Cicchetti, F. Calon. (2008). Beneficial effects of dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid on toxin-induced neuronal degeneration in an animal model of Parkinson's disease. The FASEB Journal, 22, 1213-1225.
- J. D. Buckley and P. R. C. Howe. (2009). Anti-obesity effects of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. International Association for the Study of Obesity, 10(6), 648 - 659.
- Danaei G, Ding EL, Mozaffarian D, Taylor B, Rehm J, Murray CJ, Ezzati M. (2009). The Preventable causes of death in the united states: comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors.. PLoS Med, 6(4)
- Paul R. Fortin, Robert A. Lew, Matthew H. Liang, Elizabeth A. Wright, Laurel A. Beckett, Thomas C. Chalmers, Richard I. Sperling. (1995). Validation of a meta-analysis: the effects of fish oil in rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 48(11), 1379-1390.
- HARRY GLAUBER, M.D.; PENNY WALLACE, R.N., M.S.N.; KAY GRIVER, R.D., GINGER BRECHTEL, R.N. (1989). Adverse metabolic effect of omega-3 fatty acids in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Annals of Internal Medicine, 108(5), 663-668.
- Melonie Heron, Ph.D.; Donna L. Hoyert, Ph.D.; Sherry L. Murphy, B.S.; Jiaquan Xu, M.D.; Kenneth D. Kochanek, M.A.; and Betzaida Tejada-Vera, B.S. (2006). Deaths: final data for 2006. National Vital Statistics Report, 57(14), 1-8.
- Ho, C. (2003). Comparing omega 3s from fish and flax seed oil. Retrieved from http://www.omega3sealoil.com/Chapter4_3c.html
- Kaizer L, Boyd NF, Kriukov V, Tritchler D. (1989). Fish consumption and breast cancer risk: an ecological study.. Nutr Cancer, 12(1), 61-68.
- Manas Kaushik, Dariush Mozaffarian, Donna Spiegelman, JoAnn E Manson, Walter C Willett and Frank B Hu (2009). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, fish intake, and the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Am J Clin Nutr, 90(3), 613-620.
- Ni, M. (n.d.). Fish oil for arthritis pain relief. Retrieved from http://arthritis-alternative.com/arthritis-newsletter/fish-oil/liquid-fish-oil.cfm
- Lindsay Rae Orr, J Bruce Redmon, Mindy S Kurzer and Susan K Raatz. (2009). Effect of high omega-3 fatty acid diet on markers of breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. The FASEB Journal
- Qiu-Lan Ma, Bruce Teter, Oliver J. Ubeda, Takashi Morihara, Dilsher Dhoot, Michael D. Nyby, Michael L. Tuck, Sally A. Frautschy, Greg M. Cole. (2007). Omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid increases sorla/lr11, a sorting protein with reduced expression in sporadic Alzheimer's disease (ad): relevance to ad prevention. Journal of Neuroscience, 27(52), 14299-14307.
- Stoll, A. (2001). The Omega-3 connection. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
- Dr Paul Terry PhD, Paul Lichtenstein PhD, Maria Feychting PhD, Prof Anders Ahlbom PhD, Dr Alicja Wolk.(2001). Fatty fish consumption and risk of prostate cancer. The Lancet, 357(9270), 1764 - 1766.
- Thorsdottir I, Tomasson H, Gunnarsdottir I, Gisladottir E, Kiely M, Parra MD, Bandarra NM, Schaafsma G, Martinz JA. (2007). Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content. International Journal of Obesity, 31(10), 1560-6.
- Volker D, Fitzgerald P, Major G, Garg M. (2000). Efficacy of fish oil concentrate in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Rheumatology, 27, 2343-6.
- Weil, A. (2008, August 18). Is Fish oil bad for ldl?. Retrieved from http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400434/Is-Fish-Oil-Bad-for-LDL.html