Fish Oils: Omegas Explained

Written By:  Brianna Brownfield, LAc (Zenergy Acupuncturist/Herbalist)

Okay. I am sure by now you have heard that Fish Oils are good for you.  The benefits of fish oils have become fairly common knowledge, enormous amounts of research and medical studies have been conducted to support the claims, and numerous popular fitness programs such as Crossfit are huge advocates of the supplement.  So, with all the hype, why doesn’t everyone supplement with Fish Oils daily?  Well, just because you are told something is good for you doesn’t necessarily mean you will instantly begin implementing it into your life.  You may try it for a week or so, and then forget all about it.  My theory is that in order to truly incorporate a lifestyle change you need to be educated on why you are doing so.  If you understand what fish oils are, what they do, and why you need them, then daily intake becomes a logical habitual choice.  So here we go…Fish Oils 101!

Basically, it all comes down to an adequate Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio.  Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that your body cannot manufacture on its own.  As a result, people must obtain them from foods such as fish, nuts, and plant-based oils.  In order to keep the inflammatory response of your body in check, it is ideal to consume an Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio of 1:1.  Unfortunately, our modern food system has lead to a reduced amount of Omega-3s and an excess amount of Omega-6.  Omega-6 fatty acids are much more readily consumed because of fake fats, processed vegetable oils, and grain-fed meat that they are found in.  The excess of processed foods have lead to an average ratio approaching 30:1!  To better understand why this unbalanced ratio is harmful, you need to understand eicosanoids.  Eicosanoids are signaling molecules made by essential fatty acids that exert control of your body’s immune, pain, inflammatory responses and help maintain proper blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, whereas Omega-3s are less so.  So, having a diet heavy in Omega-6s compared to 3s will actually cause chronic inflammation throughout your body.  Long story short, maintaining a balanced 3-6 ratio to reduce inflammation is one of the main reasons for supplementing Omega-3 fatty acids with fish oils.

But that’s not all!  Even if you cut out all vegetable oils and non-fat products, give up fake buttery spreads, and only eat grass-fed meat, there are still some added benefits of supplementing with fish oil.  These additional benefits derive from the vital nutrients EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) they contain.  DHA, the active component in fish, is a building block of tissue in the brain and retina of the eye.  Along with reducing triglycerides, it is essential for proper nervous system and brian development in infants and proper brain functioning of adults.  While EPA also plays an important role in brain health, its role with hormones, circulation, and immune system function is more dominant.  Where DHA focuses more on structure and function of the body, EPA has more of a regulatory role to play.  For a more detailed and scientific look at DHA/EPA check out this article by LLoyd A. Horrocks.  To summarize, here is a list of some of the benefits of Fish Oil supplementation:

    • reduces inflammation
    • reduces muscle, joint pain, and arthritis
    • lowers triglyceride levels
    • regulates cholesterol
    • prevents high blood pressure (anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulant)
    • protects against Type II Diabetes (can prevent inflammation in fat cells which lead to insulin resistance)
    • improves your mood, mental clarity, and focus
    • protects brain from Alzheimer’s disease
    • gives you clearer skin
    • enhance brain growth and function in unborn babies
    • improves your eye sight
    • reduces soreness from exercise

Now you have a basic understanding of why you need your Omega-3s.  But just to make things complicated…..NOT ALL FISH OILS ARE CREATED EQUAL!  This is important! There are many different types of Fish Oils, varying in quality, price, source, 3-6-9 ratios, etc.  And to make matters worse, everyone has their own opinions about which is best.  So, here is both my professional and personal opinion and tips while fish oil hunting:

    • Smell and taste.  Only purchase refrigerated fish oils.  If they have a strong nasty fish taste, they are rancid and can actually cause more harm then benefit.  Fish burps are lethal…in more ways than one.  If the fish oil is fresh you should be able to drink it in liquid form with no problem.
    • Look for third-party testing, manufacturing standards, and sustainable fishing practices.
    • Always choose pure, fresh, pharmaceutical grade fish oils from a reputable company backed by research and quality control.  My personal favorite is Nordic Naturals.
    • I personally choose fish oil over krill oil.  Not only is there more research to back up the fish oil benefits, this choice is made for the sustainability of our oceans.  Krill are an important link in the marine food chain and having them fished in massive quantities has a huge ecological impact.
    • Fish Oil vs. Cod Liver Oil….well, that depends.  Fish Oils have a higher percentage ratio of EPA/DHA than Cod Liver Oil, so it wins in that regard.  However, Cod Liver Oil has the added benefit of Vitamin A & D.  So, if you live in a minimal sunshine climate then Cod might be the best option.

Still cant stand the thought of stomaching Fish Oils?  Check out this list of the Top 10 Foods Containing Omega-3s. This list will give you a little insight how to incorporate more Omega-3s into your diet without having to drink oil or eat capsules.

**Generally speaking, fish oils are safe and beneficial for everyone to be taking on a daily basis.  However, if you are allergic to iodine, use blood thinner medications, or anticipate surgery, you should speak to your physician before using.**