My regular readers know who I feel about education and research when it comes to everything I do. I met the guys at Examine.com a while back and their in depth research and white papers on all sorts of supplements has made me a fan.
Sol is sharing great information about Fish Oil with us today, it is definitely worth the read. ~Vince
What is it?
When we say fish oil, we tend to be talking about two fatty acids – EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are considered omega-3 fatty acids.
What is it used for?
Fish oil tends to be recommended for general health – basically, it impacts a lot of health parameters, and instead of listing them all, we just say it’s healthy.
It’s most notable for being anti-inflammatory, and thus could help with stuff like arthritis and lupus. It is also used to help with cognition.
For athletes, fish oil is interesting because it is slightly anabolic and could help with fat loss; it also helps reduce DOMS from workouts. Interestingly, it also has potential in helping with metabolic flexibility (the speed at which your body can switch from using glucose to using fat for energy).
While most supplements are sold in “take X amount,” fish oil is about a ratio. Specifically, it’s about the ratio of your omega-3 fatty acids to your omega-6 fatty acids. Since we eat so much omega-6 fatty acids already (usually through fatty meat), the idea is to bring up the amount of omega-3s you are getting.
The optimal ratio in your body is anywhere from 1:2 to 2:1 omega-3s to omega-6s. So if you get 1000mg of omega-6s a day, you want to get anywhere from 500 to 2000mg of omega-3s every day.
If you do not want to bother counting the omega-6s in your diet (and we’ll agree it can be tiring and annoying), estimates for optimal dosage would be 500-1,000mg of combined EPA and DHA for those with a low fat diet and 2,000-3,000mg for those with a higher fat diet.
Why the ratio?
This may get a bit science heavy.
In the body, the two main omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and the main omega-6 fatty acid (known as arachidonic acid or AA) are stored in a cells membrane, just chilling there until the cell experiences a stress. When the cell is stressed, it activates an enzyme known as phospholipase A2, which then releases all three of the aforementioned fatty acids into the cell.
Now, it doesn’t discriminate. If you have 20x more AA than EPA and DHA then the enzyme will release 20x more AA; if you have an even balance, it releases an even balance.
Both AA and the omega-3 fatty acids produce signalling molecules known as eicosanoids. The omega-3 ones are collectively seen as anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and protective of cognition while the ones derived from AA are proinflammatory and help cells survive stress. There are some properties where the two overlap, such as muscle building (both are good) and memory enhancement (again, both are important).
That being said, a ratio that favors AA way too much will be associated with more inflammation and joint pain as well as a higher risk of various sorts of metabolic disorders and cancers; this is actually seen with the standard western diet. While no diet in the world is known to have the reverse problem (way too much omega-3 relative to AA), it would likely lead to immunosuppression and increased sickness.
Balance is key, so consuming a relatively balanced ratio is very important.
It takes about two weeks to change the ratio in your cells, so while fish oil won’t immediately cause changes, it won’t take a long time to see its benefits. Your intake will likely vary (just because of your diet), but as long as you try to achieve a balance, you will be fine.
Some people worry about mercury and other contaminants, but due to the processing and the fact that most now sell as being mercury-free, it isn’t much of a concern. If you are still concerned about heavy metal toxicity, jus take some spirulina with it (as it has been shown to chelate heavy metals from the human body).
Beyond Fish Oil: Sources and Supplements
Food itself can have omega-3 fatty acids, but they usually come in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which your body does a poor job of converting. EPA and DHA are synthesized by phytoplankton in the ocean, which is how they end up in fish.
When purchasing fish (since phytoplankton is not a common food product for humans), there are two major concerns: predatory status and water temperature.
Predatory fish and those higher up in the food chain (shark, swordfish, and whales eat a ton of little shrimps) bioaccumulate a lot more toxins, particularly mercury, than the smaller fish being eaten (sardines, mackerel, shrimp).
In regards to water temperature, fish that live in cold water tend to have more fat. The omega-3 fatty acids are found in these fats.
Overall, try to consume fatty fish low on the predatory scale – sardines and mackerel are the go-to fish for this.
The standard fish oil supplement is also known as fish oil ‘triglycerides’. It works, and is the reference form for omega-3 fatty acids.
It should be noted that Lovaza, a brand name of modified fish oil (in the form of fish oil ethyl ester) is actually inferior, as your body finds it harder to absorb.
Krill oil is a particular form of fish oil known as phospholipids. It has better absorption, and thus requires a lower dose.
Krill oil is notable for having astaxanthin, which could have potential beneficial aspects. Beyond the astaxanthin content, a benefit of krill oil is its environmental impact, which is very low due to the plethora of krill in existence and them not being in any immediate danger of overfishing.
Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is fish oil fatty acids in a liquid form, and it also contains a rich vitamin D and vitamin A content.
The benefits of cod liver oil is the price (quite cheap) and the vitamin D content. However, a downside is that the vitamin A content prevents superloading since vitamin A has a fairly low toxicity level.
For moderate usage, cod liver oil is a viable supplement option.
Seal and Salmon Oil
Salmon oil is sort of a mixture of fish oil and krill oil. It has the triglyceride form of fish oil but it also has an astaxanthin content as well; it could be more beneficial than fish oil, but it tends to come with a higher price to it.
Seal oil sounds like a joke at first (out of all the things to get fat from, seals?) but it is indeed being sold. There is not much research on this oil so we don’t know what the heck it does or if you should purchase it, but it comes with a higher price tag due to the novelty at the moment.
Quick Tips for Buying and Using Fish Oil Supplements
- The overall dosage of fish oil does not matter as much as the content of EPA and DHA. A capsule of 300mg (180mg EPA and 120mg DHA) is pretty much equivalent to a capsule of 1,000mg fish oil giving the same amount of EPA and DHA. That extra stuff is filler.
- Fish oil supplements can come in gel capsules or liquid form; they are both effective.
- Fish oil does not need to be taken with a meal to be absorbed because it is a dietary fat.
- Fish oil should be stored in a refrigerator after it is opened; being stored on a store shelf before opening is fine.
- Look for oils from low predatory fish such as cod or sardine, and avoid oils from high predatory fish such as shark or whale.
- Ideally, fish oil should be low in mercury. Look for products that explain their certifications or processing on the label, such as following cGMP regulations.
Take Home Points
- ‘Omega’ fatty acids are important in the body for creatine signalling molecules inside of cells (sort of like hormones inside your cells), and they are divided into either the omega-3 class of the omega-6 class
- We consumed a lot of omega-6 already (usually through red meat), and not enough omega-3; a balanced amount is best for overall health.
- Consuming omega-3s (usually through fish oil) is thus the easiest way to get this balance.
- There are many forms of fish oil, including food, that can be used to get your omega-3s from. If you cannot eat enough small fatty fish, then a simple fish oil pill would be useful; newer and more niche forms like krill oil may be better, but they are also more expensive.
Thank you Sol!
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