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New Frontiers In Fish Oil – Part One

New Frontiers In Fish Oil – Part One

By Dr. Patrick Lovegrove Medically Reviewed by Lindsay Langley, BSN, RN, CHT
Posted Monday, March 11th, 2019
Fish oil

It is part one of a two-part series on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil. Stay tuned for part two about incorporating fish oil into a regular diet.

From supporting cardiovascular health to promoting ideal body composition to optimizing inflammatory pathways, omega-3’s substantive impact on various health issues has been well-documented. Here, we take a closer look at this versatile nutrient and its many applications.

Why Take Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Many research articles support the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Primarily for their ability to act as the body’s natural protection. For those patients recovering from a heart attack, omega-3 fatty acids aid in the healing process by helping with cardiac remodeling and enabling the heart to contract better. Omega-3 fatty acids also manage fibrosis in the region and impact the reduction of biomarkers for inflammation. Further, according to the Journal of the American Medicine Association, omega-3 fatty acids reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

Omega-3 fatty acids promote healthy body composition, improving lean and decreasing fat mass in healthy adults. Fish oil concentrates cause weight reduction in mice and appears to stop the animals from gaining weight when given free access to food. Additionally, omega-3 concentrates reduced the number of fat cells, especially in the abdominal region. Research shows that concentrated fish oil increases fat oxidation by activating genes that break down fat in the mitochondria and peroxisomes. These breakthroughs have allowed the development of new therapies for obesity and other metabolic diseases.

Those suffering from chronic pain have also sought relief from fish oil supplements. Studies suggest that daily omega-3s may help support healthy inflammatory pathways, thereby alleviating symptoms associated with inflammation. Another study showed that fish oil reduced the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in 59 percent of the neck and low-back pain patients.

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, further known advantages of taking fish oil include: 

  • Decreasing the risk of depression and anxiety
  • Improving eye health
  • promoting brain health during pregnancy
  • Supporting focus and memory
  • Stabilizing healthy blood sugar levels
  • Keeping a healthy immune response
  • Improving bone and joint health
  • Improving sleep
  • Supporting skin health.

Types and Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA).

  1. Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA) – is an 18-carbon long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (SCPUFA) that comes primarily from plants. ALA provides a source of energy when metabolized. Since our body can’t make ALA, it’s an essential nutrient. In humans, ALA undergoes an elongation step into the second form of omega-3.
  2. Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – ALA is a poor source of EPA due to a low conversion efficiency of only about 5 to 10 percent. Meanwhile, EPA is a 20-carbon long chain (LCPUFA) known for its biological activity in humans. To support various functions, including brain health and heart health, EPA can also elongate into the third form of omega-3, DHA.
  3. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) – is a 22-carbon long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid. It is known as a physiologically-essential LCPUFA. While possible, the conversion efficiency of ALA through to DHA is extremely low, typically occurring with an efficiency of just 0.2 to 2 percent.

Therefore, the best way to incorporate these essential nutrients into your diet is to eat fish rich in omega-3s. However, not all fatty fish are the same. SMASH fish—that is, salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring—are not only packed with omega-3s, but they’re also safer to eat thanks to low amounts of mercury. Comparatively, high-mercury fish, such as tuna, swordfish, orange roughy, and shark, are typically larger and tend to live longer. These two factors increase their mercury exposure. Eating these fish with good sources of omega-3 should be in low moderation due to their mercury levels.

Throughout history, humans consumed diets heavy on fish. Today, fish consumption is low. These physiologically-essential nutrients have become a nutritional deficit for many, thanks to western diets. It creates a dietary solution because of this kind of diet.

In part two of this series, I’ll explore how fish oil supplements have contributed to meeting our modern omega-3 needs. And what consumers need to know about distinguishing quality in a vast fish oil market.

About the author

Dr. Patrick Lovegrove