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Health Benefits of Fish Oil

Jul 16, 2012

The health benefits of fish oil include its ability to aid in treatment of heart diseases, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, AHDH, low immunity, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, arthritis, IBD, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, eye disorders, macular degeneration and ulcers. It also helps in weight loss, pregnancy, fertility and skin care (particularly for conditions such as psoriasis and acne).

Most of the health benefits of fish oil can be attributed to the presence of omega 3 essential fatty acids like Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Other useful essential fatty acids include Alpha-linolenic acid or ALA and Gamma-linolenic acid or GLA.

The different types of fish which can be a good source of fish oil are mackerel, rainbow trout, lake trout, halibut, herring, sea bass, sardines, swordfish, oysters, albacore tuna, blue fin tuna, yellow fin tuna, turbot, pilchards, anchovies and salmon. The most common ones among these for obtaining oil are albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, lake trout and salmon. The quality of fish oil greatly depends on the type of fish used for getting the oil.

The health benefits of fish oil include the following:

Healthy Heart

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), clinical trials have proved that omega 3 is effective in reducing the incidence of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Fish oil is a good source of omega 3 and therefore, reduces the risk of heart diseases and heart arrhythmias. It also lowers the level of bad cholesterol (LDL), and increases the level of good cholesterol (HDL). Fish oil prevents accumulation of triglycerides and further reduces the levels of excess triglycerides. Preliminary research has also shown that fish oil can be used for preventing atherosclerosis in coronary patients. Thus fish oil is effective in treating heart strokes and regular usage of fish oil can help avoid numerous sudden cardiac deaths. As per American Heart Association, these preliminary findings should be confirmed by detailed research.

Weight Loss

Fish oil also aids in losing weight. Research conducted by Professor Peter Howe at the University of South Australia has shown that fish oil improves the efficacy of exercise in reducing weight. Volunteers who were given fish oil diet showed greater weight loss as compared to those who did not consume fish oil diet. Exercise combined with fish oil had a positive effect on the body shape and body composition of the patients.

Blood Circulation

It is believed that fish oil has the ability to improve blood circulation along with reducing triglyceride and serum cholesterol levels.

Improved Immunity

It is believed that regular consumption of fish oil aids in increasing your immunity thereby enabling you to resist incidence of common diseases such as cold, cough and flu. Omega three fatty acids present in fish oil benefit the immune system by effecting cytokines and eicosanoids present in our body. Researchers have also studied the effect of fish meal and fish oil on the immune system of pigs and found that fish oil aided in the growth of the animals. Similar research conducted on mice at Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taiwan, also gave positive results. Thus fish oil has the potential to enhance the immune system of humans. Fish oil is also beneficial to patients suffering from lupus, which is a disease characterized by the attacks of immune system of the body on various organs and tissues. It also helps in reducing associated fever, skin rashes and fatigue.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Fish is effective in reducing inflammation in blood and tissues. Regular consumption of fish oil supplements, tablets, pills and capsules is helpful to those suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases. Fish oil is effective in treating gastrointestinal disorders, sprue, short bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis, which are typical disorders of the intestine. Patients suffering from Crohn’s disease find it difficult to absorb vitamins, fats and essential supplements. Fish oil supplements are an effective diet for such patients. In ulcerative colitis, fish oil prevents the accumulation of leukotriene on the colon. It should be noted that the anti inflammatory properties of fish oil are limited to reducing inflammation. Research is also being conducted to enhance the anti-inflammatory action of fish oil by addition of other dietary supplements and drugs.

Arthritis

Fish oil is useful in treating arthritis, rheumatism, Raynaud’s symptoms and similar conditions. Usage of fish oil can help reducing the dosage of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). The Royal Adelaide Hospital, Australia, and University of Newcastle, Australia have reported that large quantities of fish oil have shown positive effect on the treatment of arthritis. In case of osteoarthritis, fish oil can be helpful in reducing the impact of enzymes that destroy cartilages. However, since the dosage of fish oil required for desirable effect in the improvement of a patient is unknown, the Arthritis Center, Department of Rheumatology, John Hopkins University, considers including omega 3 fatty acids and fish oil in the treatment of arthritis as controversial. The University also cautions that there may appear certain side effect due to the use of fish oil in arthritis patients. Read more about arthritis on the webpage of Arthritis Foundation and Arthritis Center.

Depression and Anxiety

Due to the presence of Omega 3 fatty acids, fish oil is good for relieving depression, sadness, anxiety, restlessness, mental fatigue, stress, decreased sexual desire, suicidal tendencies and other nervous disorders. Researchers at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio in their research publication titled “Fish Oils and Bipolar Disorder: A Promising but Untested Treatment” state that fish oil can be useful in mood stabilizing and treating bipolar disorders. No wonder, it has been found that countries where fish is eaten often have low incidence of depression. Similarly research conducted on prisoners has shown that when prisoners were fed with sea food containing higher amount of omega three fatty acids, there was a significant drop in the homicide rate.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Research conducted at the Louisiana State University has shown that fatty acids are effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Since fish oil is one of the best sources of essential fatty acids including EPA and DHA, it helps in Alzheimer disease. Research conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) validates the usefulness of fish oil as a possible remedy for the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends fish containing higher content of omega three fatty acids to patients as it acts as a protective diet during Alzheimer disease and dementia.

ADHD or ADD

Fish oil has the ability to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) due to the high concentration of fatty acids. If your child suffers from hyperactivity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, inability to complete tasks, emotional instability, wavering attitude, poor coordination, short attention span, short term memory, low concentration, tendency to interrupt others, recklessness, hastiness, impetuosity, impulsiveness, low IQ, or learning disorders, fish oil supplements, tablets, pills or capsules are a proven remedy. Research conducted at the University of South Australia and CSIRO has shown that when children suffering from ADHD were given doses of fish oil and evening primrose capsules for 15 weeks, they showed significant improvement. Since brain consists of about 60% of fats, especially essential fatty acids such as omega 3 and omega 6, fish oil helps in improving the functioning of the brain. Further, it is believed that fish oil is useful in the normal development of the brain. It helps your kid concentrate on the studies better. It has been further found that when pregnant women are given regular doses of fish oil, the born toddlers show enhanced hand eye coordination. Facts about ADHD.

Eye Disorders

It is well known that fish oil is good for its ability to improve vision. It also helps in avoiding age related macular degeneration. The National Eye Institute at the National Institute of Health, US, plans to conduct a nation-wide study to evaluate the effect of fish oil in treating macular degeneration. This study will provide strong scientific evidence to the benefits of fish oil for eye care, thereby enabling government agencies and physicians to strongly recommend fish oil for macular degeneration.

Skin Care

Fish oil helps in improving the condition of poor and dry skin by making it shinny and glowing. It is useful in treating various skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, itching, redness of skin, skin lesions, and rashes. In case of psoriasis, the EPA present in fish oil restricts the growth of pro-inflammatory agents by producing arachidonic acid. Fish oil can also be applied topically to obtain relief from psoriasis. Regular intake of fish oil capsules helps in reducing loss of moisture from the skin. It is also claimed by some people that fish oil helps in preventing sunburns.

Acne

Fish oil is effective for acne as well. EPA is known to inhibit androgen formation. Androgen can affect the formation of sebum in hair follicle.

Cancer

Fish oil is useful in delaying weight loss in patients suffering from pancreatic cancer. Fish oil supplements can also be helpful to patients suffering from cancer related hyperlipidemia.

Diabetes

Type II diabetic patients are more prone to cardio vascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, and stroke. As mentioned above, fish oil is helpful in treating various heart problems. Research conducted at the University of Oxford, UK, has proved that fish oil is useful in reducing triglyceride levels in diabetes as well.

Ulcers

The presence of EPA and DHA in fish oil makes it helpful in case of ulcers caused by Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Pregnancy

Fish oil is very useful for pregnant women as DHA present in it helps in the development of the eyes and brain of the baby. It helps in avoiding premature births, low weight at birth, and miscarriage. Research conducted in Denmark, which involved 8,729 pregnant women, concluded that diet with low amounts of fish resulted in higher risk of premature or preterm babies. It is also believed that women who do not have a sufficient intake of EPA and DHA in their diet suffer from depression after birth as there is transfer of some amount of brain mass from the mother to the child in the last stages of pregnancy. Moreover, as mentioned above, when pregnant women are given fish oil supplements, the born kids show enhanced coordination between eye and hand. Thus it is very beneficial to consume fish oil either by eating fish or taking fish oil supplements, tablets, capsules, or pills during pregnancy for the overall development of the child and well being of the mother. However, it should be noted that fish oil obtained from the liver of the fish, example – cod liver oil, should not be consumed during pregnancy as cod liver oil is rich in retinol and vitamin A.

Fertility

Preliminary research conducted on boar has shown that when male boars are fed with diet containing fish oil, the quality of the sperm is enhanced. After ejaculation, the sperms have increased survival against lipid peroxidative attacks in the female genital tract, thereby increasing the chances of conception. On the other hand, similar animal studies have shown inhibition in the synthesis of prostaglandin E and prostaglandin F, which are produced in large quantities by human seminal vesicles. The research found no impact in the count and mobility of sperm.

Hair Care

Fish oil helps maintain a good luster of the hair. Omega three has hair growing properties as it provides nourishment to the follicles. It therefore aids in faster development of hair and preventing hair loss. A good supply of proteins is also necessary for hair growth. Since most fish varieties are rich in protein, eating fish helps in keeping healthy hair.

It is also believed that fish oil helps in asthma and kidney failure. Many people also like to feed fish oil to their pets especially dog and cat as it enables in the growth of shinny hair and smooth skin. It also helps the dogs and cats deal with arthritis, which is a very common disease among pets.

The National High Blood Pressure Education Program, US, has cautioned against wrongful publicity of fish oil as an effective means of lowering high blood pressure in patients suffering from hypertension. According to its report, fish oil supplements lowers high blood pressure only to a small extent in hypertensive patients. Research conducted at the Channing Laboratory, Boston, US has revealed that moderate doses of fish oil supplements have little effect on the condition of high blood pressure in normotensive persons.

Should we replace vegetable oils with fish oil?

No. There are many websites which advice people to stop eating these vegetable oil and switch to fish oil for increasing the intake of omega 3 fatty acids. However, it should be noted that most of these websites take a bias towards fish oil to increase the sales of their products. Fish oil is a good source of omega 3 essential fatty acids and should be consumed. But that doesn’t necessary imply that one should replace vegetable oils with fish oil.

Here is a brief on Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids. There are three types of Omega 3 fatty acids, namely alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). All three are important for the body. Vegetable sources including flax seed oil, soybean oil, hemp oil, canola oil, walnut oil, rapeseed, perilla, chia and tofu are rich in ALA. The human body has the ability to convert ALA to DHA and EPA, though there are limitations to this conversion. It has been found that ALA is also useful in treating heart problems; however, the exact mechanism is yet unknown.

GLA, an important Omega 6 fatty acid, shows promise in the treatment of cancer. It is believed that GLA is useful in treating various problems including arthritis, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, skin problems, breast pain, premenstrual syndrome and diabetes. The best source for GLA is evening primrose oil.

Caution on dosage of fish oil

Excessive dosage of fish oil can have adverse allergies and side effects on the body. Further, fish oil can be problematic in many conditions and hence it is necessary to fish oil supplements cautiously. You should consult a doctor or physician for the exact dosage of fish oil you should take. Moreover, fish oil can be consumed in various forms. These include eating the fish directly by baking, roasting, frying, grilling, broiling, or smoking it or eating fish oil which is available in the form of concentrated dietary supplements such as liquid, tablet, capsule, pill, soft gel, etc. Also, there are various pharmaceutical grades of fish oil. You should also consult your doctor to check the mode of eating fish oil.

Fish oil purity

One must pay attention to the quality of fish oil while purchasing. Fish oil is obtained from freshwater, farm, ocean, deep sea and shallow sea fish. All these fish can be contaminated with toxic compounds such as mercury, arsenic, lead, forms of calcium, furans, dioxins, PCBs, and methyl mercury, and may affect the human body. Therefore, the fish oil used should be pure. Many companies sell ultra refined fish oil or distilled fish oil, but you should always check if the standards have been followed.

Fish oil and Vitamins

Vitamin A and Vitamin D: Fish oil, especially the one obtained from liver such as the cod liver oil is a rich source of vitamin A and vitamin D. However, excessive dosage of cod liver oil can lead to Vitamin toxicity, accumulation of excessive vitamins in the body, which can cause side effects.

Vitamin E: Various beliefs surrounding fish oil and vitamin E include:

  • Fish oil undergoes oxidation and can become rancid, leading to formation of free radicals. Addition of antioxidants such as vitamin E to fish oil can help prevent the formation of these free radicals.
  • Excessive dosage of fish oil leads to reduction of Vitamin E in the human body. This loss of vitamin E should be supplemented with external vitamin E supplements.
  • The combination of fish oil and vitamin E can have added benefit in the treatment of many cancers and heart diseases, than if they are used individually.

Preliminary research has been carried out which prove the above beliefs; however, these need to be substantiated with detailed research before drawing strong conclusions on the use of fish oil and vitamin E.

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