Fish Oil: October 2008 Nutrient of the Month

Fish Oil really isn’t a nutrient per se, but an oil that contains a high concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA. Most 1000 mg softgels are standardized to contain 18% EPA and 12% DHA. You may have heard before that fats are bad, so you avoid eating fatty fish or taking fish oil softgels. Fats, especially the wrong kind (like saturated fats and trans-fats), in excess amounts can be bad for you, but ensuring that you get the right amount of the good fats is very important to your health.

I have been taking fish oil softgels, and eating a lot of fish, since 2004, when I began studying for the GRE. I did this because I read fish oil was good for the brain, and studies have shown that it halts cognitive decline. It also seems to help treat depression. Fish Oil supplementation has been found to benefit Attention Deficit Disorder and ADHD. So, before trying drugs to treat these increasingly common disorders, it makes sense to give good old fashioned fish a try.

Additionally, fish oil has been found to be beneficial against heart disease, cancer, and obesity. When I went looking for studies on fish oil, I found a great site that contains virtually every study I was familiar with, and many, many others, I recommend checking it out for fish oil information and news.

Humans used to eat 2 grams of Omega-6 fats (e.g. Linoleic Acid) for every 1 gram of Omega-3 fat (e.g. DHA). Today the ratio is 10-20:1. This is because we eat a lot of foods rich in Omega-6 fats, like Corn Oil, but not a lot of foods rich in Omega-3 fats. This out-of-whack ratio creates many problems in the body, which explains why supplementing with Omega-3 fats is effective in treating a variety of conditions.

You may be asking, what about mercury? Doesn’t fish contain mercury? Unfortunately, some fish do contain high concentrations of mercury. The worst offenders are bigger fish like swordfish, tuna, and king mackerel. Wild (not farmed) Pacific salmon is one of the safer bets. Higher quality fish oil softgels are generally mercury free, because supplement companies use smaller fish to make the fish oil, and any mercury present is removed during the distillation process. This page from the EPA has mercury content of common fish.

Emulsified fish oil seems to be better absorbed than regular oil. You can emulsify (mix two unblendable liquids by dispersing one within the other) regular fish oil by taking it with a little lecithin, which is a natural emulsifier. Lecithin is a cheap supplement you can easily buy in bulk. I refrigerate all opened fish oil bottles to prevent rancidity. I also suggest buying fish oil with a little vitamin E (listed as tocopherol or mixed tocopherols on the ingredient list) added to prevent oxidation.

Fish oil may seem like a smelly way to get healthy, but it is well worth the pennies it costs per softgel. Think about the last time you or family ate non-fried fish rich in Omega-3 fats, like Salmon or Albacore Tuna (particularly high in DHA). Can you remember when that was? Well, if you can’t remember it, you should look into fish oil, because it very well may help your family’s health improve significantly. Also, if you can’t remember it, fish oil may just help your memory!