Fish oil has been associated with many health benefits. These include:
- Improvements in heart health due to decreased triglycerides, decreased blood pressure in people with high blood pressure, decreased LDL (“bad” cholesterol), increased HDL (“good” cholesterol), decreased blood coagulation and clumping, and prevent of the formation of artery plaques.
- Improved brain health
- Improved eye health
- Decreased rate of depression
- Improved Insulin resistance
- Decreased risk of certain cancers
- Improvement in inflammatory conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis
Fish oil is helpful because it is a source of omega 3 fatty acids, specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Another omega 3 fatty acid, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is derived mainly from plant sources such as flax, chia, hemp and walnuts, but it is not easily converted to EPA and DHA so it has limited benefits. These fatty acids are helpful because cell membranes are fat based so the consumption of fatty acids leads to cell membranes being more fluid. Increasing the fluidity of brain cell membranes helps neurotransmitters be transmitted easily, therefore aiding in brain development and slowing the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Increasing the fluidity of muscle cell membranes also leads to increased insulin sensitivity and decreased blood glucose levels.
Omega 3 fatty acids are considered anti-inflammatory. They dilate blood vessels, decrease inflammation, prevent blood coagulation, decrease pain, dilate airways and support the immune system.
There is a convincing body of evidence that supports the use of omega 3 supplementation in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients. In 2016, the Archives of Medical Research conducted a retrospective analysis of 20 clinical trials where RA patients were treated with omega 3 fatty acids. The total amount of patients enrolled in all studies was 370. All of the studies were randomized with a control group, of parallel or crossover design, quantifiable and published. Of these 20 studies 16 of them showed significant improvement in multiple disease outcomes. Participants reported improvements in symptoms such as swelling and joint stiffness and took less non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Omega 3 fatty acids led to a change in eicosanoid synthesis toward a more anti-inflammatory profile and a decreased production of inflammatory cytokines such as PGE2, thromboxane B2 and leukotriene B4. This mechanism of action lead to a decrease in inflammation and therefore a decrease in RA symptoms.
The best way of obtaining omega 3 fatty acids is through diet, so consider eating fatty fish twice a week, such as salmon and mackerel. If that goal is not obtainable consider purchasing an omega 3 supplement. A supplement should contain 180-300mg EPA and 120-200mg DHA in a ratio of 1.5 EPA to 1.0 DHA for a combined total of 200-500mg EPA and DHA. Supplements that are labeled as “fish oil” should contain at least 500mg EPA/DHA in every 1000mg of fish oil. Supplements should be taken with fat or should have additional Vitamin E added to aid in absorption. Omega 3 supplementation is generally recognized as safe in doses less than 3g/day, with side effects ranging from fishy aftertaste in the mouth, indigestion, nausea and loose stools. Omega 3s can also decrease blood clotting, so consult with a doctor before taking if on blood thinners and stop taking 5 days before any surgery. As with any dietary supplement make sure it is from a reputable manufacturer and independently tested for content and purity. Look for a USP or GMP seal on all dietary supplements or consult with Consumerlabs.com or your pharmacist.
With its beneficial effects on inflammation, heart health, brain health, mood, eye health, insulin resistance and decreased risk of certain cancers a quality Omega 3 supplement can be an important addition for many patients. Be sure to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before changing your medications in any way and stay healthy!