Fish oil boosts overall health, affects inflammation, improves blood flow during exercise and maximizes fat loss
by Jeff S. Volek, Ph.D., R.D.
There is no better example of bioactive nutrients with as diverse health-promoting effects as omega-3 fatty acids.1
Omega-3 fats are a normal constituent of every cell membrane along with another class of fatty acid called omega-6 fats. Our bodies cannot produce them, so they must come from the diet. Yet, because of the abundance of corn and soy oils in most Americans diets, we have too much omega-6 relative to omega-3 in our cells. This imbalance is connected to a broad spectrum of health problems, including common degenerative diseases. An easy way to restore balance and improve your health is to add omega-3 fats to your diet. Here is more about what omega-3s are, the scientific studies supporting their use and how much to take for health benefits. Omega-3s from fish and flax
Fish and fish oils are rich in the main two omega-3s, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Non-fish oil sources that contain omega-3s include flaxseed
and evening primrose oils
. These plant sources are rich in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a portion of which your body can convert to EPA and DHA. Broad spectrum health benefits – affects inflammation and more
Products of omega-6 fats are associated with greater inflammation than omega-3 fats. Since chronic levels of inflammation are linked to many diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and other joint-related diseases, as well as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, the therapeutic supplementation of fish oil has long-term benefits.
It has long been known that fish oil can reduce the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease and the heart’s susceptibility to fatal arrhythmias. Fish oil also inhibits platelet function and improves blood pressure, endothelial function, blood vessel health and inflammation. Further, studies show that increasing one’s intake of omega-3s enhances insulin sensitivity, which improves how the body handles fat by promoting fat burning in muscles and inhibiting fat storage. EPA/DHA combo lowers triglycerides better than drugs
Many doctors prefer to prescribe drugs to treat high blood lipids, but there are actually quite a few natural methods that are as effective or better and are associated with fewer side effects. Fish oils
are far better than any drug at lowering high triglycerides. A review of the findings of randomized, controlled trials showed that omega-3 fatty acids of marine origin consistently lower elevated plasma triglyceride levels in a dose-dependent fashion with greater efficacy in people who had higher triglyceride levels. Fish oil augments blood flow to muscles during exercise
The vascular system regulates the flow of blood throughout the body and plays a critical role in delivering nutrients to and from muscles during exercise. A recent study tested whether fish oil (EPA and DHA) could enhance blood flow to active muscles during exercise.2
The amount of dilation and blood flow in response to an exercise stimulus was measured after 6 weeks of supplementation with EPA (3.2g) and DHA (2.2g)
per day. Fish oil significantly improved exercise-induced dilation by nearly two-fold and blood flow by 36%. These results show that regular use of fish oil improves blood flow to skeletal muscle during exercise. Fish oil and exercise maximize fat loss and improve health
Fish oil has beneficial effects on a number of health indicators, but few studies have specifically examined the effects of omega-3s on fat loss and the interaction with exercise.
Australian researchers tested the effects of a fish oil supplement to improve fat loss and risk factors of heart disease.3
In addition, they examined if exercise augmented the effects of fish oil on body composition. Overweight subjects consumed fish oil or a sunflower oil placebo for 12 weeks. The dose was 6g of oil (1.9g of omega-3 fats) per day. Each group was split into two more groups: one that exercised three times per week and one that continued their normal level of activity. The investigators noted significant effects of exercise or fish oil alone on fat loss. The combination of both exercise and fish oil led to the greatest decrease in body fat (almost four pounds in 12 weeks). In addition, fish oil
supplementation decreased blood triglycerides, increased high density lipoprotein cholesterol and improved the functioning of blood vessels. DHA from plants provides cardiovascular benefits
Most fish oil supplements contain more EPA than DHA, and therefore most of the beneficial effects have been attributed to EPA. Usually DHA is derived from deep water fish, but a new method is available where DHA is produced from microalgae containing no EPA. To test the effects of this plant-derived DHA, researchers had men supplement with 7.5g of DHA oil (3g of DHA) or the same amount of olive oil as a placebo for three months.4
Subjects did not otherwise change their diet and they maintained their same level of activity. The DHA group showed a significant decrease of 15% in C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP provides an index of inflammatory status. Elevated levels have been shown to be a good predictor of future heart problems. DHA also improved other indicators of inflammation such as IL-6 (interleukin-6) and circulating neutrophils, and improved blood lipids. For those who do not like the taste of fish or find fish oil capsules not palatable, this study suggests that DHA supplementation from microalgae is a viable option. Minimum and optimum dosages
The response to fish oil supplementation varies between people and some individuals require higher doses to achieve physiological effects. A good minimum dose to start is somewhere around 300 mg of EPA and DHA per day, which is equivalent to about one serving of fatty fish. A more optimal dose would be closer to 1g per day of EPA and DHA. If you are at high risk for heart disease, stroke or inflammatory condition, then 2-3g per day may have better effects.