Americans love their fish oil supplements. In 2012, 18.8 million American adults ingested them, which made them the most popular natural products in the United States at the time, according to the National Institutes of Health. Although sales of the cloudy yellow capsules began to stabilize and then decline, according to CNN, many people were still swearing by the heart, brain, and eye health supplements in 2013 – but does fish oil actually work?
Fish oil is basically oil made from fish, mainly types like sardines, herring, and anchovies, which are full of nutrients known as omega-3s – specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – which the body uses can. t make it yourself. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation, and chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other age-related conditions. But the science behind many health claims about omega-3 fatty acid intake in the form of fish oil supplements remains unclear.
Also, the fish oil supplement industry can be harmful to the planet. The fish caught for supplements are called keystone species that larger fish rely heavily on for food, Paul Greenberg, author of The Omega Principle, told NPR. In fact, around 20 to 25 million tons of fish, or a quarter of all fish caught, are processed into animal feed or dietary supplements. Removal of these key species can lead to the decline of larger fish, which can severely disrupt marine ecosystems.
Given these disclaimers, how do you know whether to start taking fish oil supplements? For which health claims do we have the strongest evidence? Mic asked two nutritionists to weigh themselves.
Can Fish Oil Improve My Heart Health?
Much of the rationale for claiming that fish oil can benefit heart health comes from evidence that omega-3 fatty acids lower levels of triglycerides – a type of fat – in the blood, explains Linda Van Horn, a nutrition professor at the Feinberg School of. from Northwestern University Medicine. Elevated levels of triglycerides in the blood are usually accompanied by low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, and high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol”.
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Although prescription omega-3 fatty acid medications have been shown to lower triglyceride levels by 20 to 30% in most people who need treatment for high triglyceride levels, the American Heart Association advises people not to use prescription themselves Treat fish oil supplements. Because dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, companies who manufacture them do not need to demonstrate their safety or effectiveness in clinical trials.
The evidence as to whether fish oil can lower the risk of heart disease in healthy people is more dubious. A 2017 AHA scientific opinion found that there weren’t enough studies to support the use of omega-3s in healthy people to prevent heart disease. “If you’re trying to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, this may not be the best approach,” says Van Horn, adding that you would be better off eating a diet high in fish, vegetable proteins and little red to take out and processed meat.
Is Fish Oil Good For Brain Function?
Much of the brain is made up of omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to be important for cell signaling. Again, however, it is unclear whether fish oil containing omega-3 fatty acids does anything for brain health. “There is no question” that maternal DHA intake is important for cognitive development in utero, and in fact the FDA recommends that pregnant women eat 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish daily – but Van Horn notes that the agency briefly stops recommending fish oil supplements.
Likewise, the FDA recommends that adults and children consume fish, not fish oil supplements. And there is “no encouraging evidence” that fish oil supplements can improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, says Van Horn. Clinical studies have looked at the use of omega-3 fatty acids for depression, but with conflicting results.
Can Fish Oil Improve My Eyesight and Eye Health?
Research has shown that children whose mothers had more DHA in their diets during pregnancy had better eyesight, says Van Horn, but it’s unclear whether taking DHA in supplement form would have the same benefits. Research on whether omega-3 fatty acids can prevent or slow age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of blindness, is not conclusive.
Can Fish Oil Help You Lose Weight?
Popular claims that fish oil can help with weight likely came from Research linking chronic inflammation to obesity, as well as the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids, says Cassandra Vanderwall, clinical nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. “I would say these claims are wrong,” she notes. In fact, research on omega-3 fatty acid supplements and weight loss is sparse and inconclusive.
Can fish oil lower my risk of cancer?
Studies on whether fish oil can fight off cancer have yielded different results depending on the type of cancer. Human studies have shown that fish oil can lower the risk of colon cancer and breast cancer. However, a 2013 study in men with prostate cancer linked high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids to an increased risk of prostate cancer and suggested that these nutrients may indeed play a role in prostate tumor formation.
Should I take fish oil supplements?
While it’s questionable whether fish oil supplements will improve your health, they likely won’t harm it, Vanderwall says. If you are considering taking fish oil supplements, she and Van Horn suggest consulting a doctor or nutritionist first. Tell them what other supplements or medications you are taking in case they interact negatively with fish oil. You shouldn’t take fish oil supplements if you’re also taking the blood thinner warfarin or glucocorticoids like cortisone or prednisone, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Vanderwall also suggests doing your homework with the manufacturer. While the FDA doesn’t approve nutritional supplements, look for certification from organizations like the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International, which tests the safety of nutritional supplements and other products.
But ideally, if you can stand the fishy taste, you’d be getting omega-3s from seafood (including not just certain fish but also farmed mussels like clams, oysters, and mussels, according to the NPR) instead of supplements. Not only is it more environmentally sustainable, it’s also a more efficient way for your body to absorb and metabolize these fatty acids, says Van Horn. Although research on fish oil is patchy, studies have increasingly shown the health benefits of a diet rich in fish. “A dietary supplement can never duplicate the food,” she says.