When patients ask me what supplement they can take indefinitely that is a cure-all, the first thing that comes to mind is omega-3 fish oil.
Not only is there anecdotal evidence that fish oils work wonders, but there is a large Healthy Body of scientific research that proves their health benefits. Furthermore, both naturopathic doctors, as well as medical doctors, agree that fish oils play an integral role in being healthy.
Fish oil is derived from the tissue of oily fish. There are three common types of fish oils, known as omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids and omega-9 fatty acids. Each type plays a different role in addressing health conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly derived from salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel and anchovies, are generally the fish oils you want to supplement, as they are harder to obtain through dietary means and are very anti-inflammatory. The ratio between the three fatty acids is key. It should be in the range of 2:1to 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3.
Omega-6 and 9 are commonly consumed in the diet as the typical North American diet tends to contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. Foods such as vegetable oils, meat, avocado, seeds, sunflower oil, canola oil, cashews and eggs all contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.
Since the average diet provides plenty of omega-6 fatty acids, supplements are not usually necessary.
The Mediterranean diet does a better job of balancing the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids because it is based on whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic and moderate wine consumption all high in omega-3 fatty acids.
So what health conditions do omega-3 fatty acids treat?
- They benefit almost every condition. Omega-3s decrease inflammation, which is essentially the underlying cause of many diseases.
- They can help treat and prevent heart disease by lowering blood pressure. They can decrease high cholesterol by increasing HDL (good cholesterol), decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. Omega-3 fish oils are a blood thinner and play a similar role to Aspirin without Aspirin’s unwanted side-effects.
- They are great for supporting the brain and nerve function, thus helping with mood, memory and concentration in conditions such as menopause, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke recovery, students studying for exams, and depression and anxiety.
Research studies have compared omega-3 fatty acids to antidepressants such as Effexor and have found people in the fish oil group fared better than those on conventional antidepressants.
In June 2010, Dr. François Lespérance at the University of Montreal published his results from the largest study ever conducted assessing omega-3’s efficacy in treating major depression. They were published in the online Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The results proved omega-3 fish oils are an effective treatment for people with major depression.
Omega-3s also help lower high blood sugar levels in diabetics. They help support joint health in those with arthritis, sciatica and musculoskeletal conditions. In those with chronic skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis, fish oils can help support the skin and decrease inflammation caused in these conditions.
Omega-3s also benefit auto-immune conditions such as Chron’s, Colitis, Celiac disease, allergies and any other condition where the immune system is hypersensitive.
When looking at an omega-3 fish oil supplement, whether liquid or capsules, you will notice it contains two active ingredients, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For adults, it is more important to have a higher ratio of EPA as it plays a role in decreasing inflammation and supplies all the health benefits listed above. Healthy Look for a higher DHA in a child’s fish oil or prenatal supplement as it plays a role in brain development in children.
In order to receive the benefits from omega-3 fish oils, you need to ensure you are taking a therapeutic dose. A therapeutic dose can range from 1000 to 4000 mg of EPA, not total fish oils, depending on the condition you are treating. Professional-grade fish oil is advised as opposed to grocery or drugstore brands as they are third-party tested to ensure they do not contain heavy metals and toxic substances. Professional-grade fish oils also provide a higher dosage of omega-3s in fewer amounts of capsules or teaspoons ensuring you will reach therapeutic dose in a more convenient manner.