How healthy are fish oil supplements? And is eating fish better?

by Rajesh Kaur

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil, have long been touted for their numerous health benefits. These include promoting heart health, protecting the brain from dementia, and easing the symptoms of arthritis. But what exactly are omega-3 fats, and do we get the same benefits from eating fish or taking supplements?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is essential for our health. They can’t be produced by our bodies, so we need to consume them in our diet. There are three main types of omega-3 fats: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA is found in plant foods like leafy greens, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. EPA and DHA, on the other hand, are primarily found in seafood, eggs (especially free-range eggs), and breast milk.

Omega-3 fats play a crucial role in the structure of our cells and help to maintain the health of our heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system.

When it comes to the benefits of omega-3 fats, research has mostly focused on fish consumption rather than fish oil supplements. While supplements provide the same levels of EPA and DHA as fish, they may not have the same additional benefits that come from consuming the whole fish. Fish contains other nutrients like protein, vitamins A and D, iodine, and selenium, which could also contribute to its health benefits.

In terms of heart disease, research suggests that fish oil supplementation might not have a significant impact on reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the National Heart Foundation still recommends eating fish rich in omega-3 fats as part of a heart-healthy diet.

For arthritis, studies have shown that fish oil supplements can reduce the severity and progression of the disease. However, the amount of EPA and DHA needed to see these benefits is often difficult to consume from fish alone. Arthritis Australia recommends a daily intake of about 2.7g of EPA and DHA, which may require several fish oil capsules that contain 300-400mg of omega-3 fats each.

When it comes to dementia, there is evidence that a higher intake of DHA from fish can lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, the relationship between total dietary intake of omega-3 fats and Alzheimer’s risk is less clear. The Alzheimer’s Society recommends eating fish over taking fish oil supplements based on the current evidence.

Overall, it’s best to obtain omega-3 fats from a healthy, plant-based diet that includes fish. While supplements can be beneficial for certain conditions, it’s important to consult with your doctor, especially if you’re taking other medications.

When purchasing fish oil supplements, make sure to check the expiration date and store them in cool conditions to maintain their nutritional value. While fish oil may cause fishy burps in some people, serious side effects are rare.

In conclusion, omega-3 fats are an important part of a healthy diet, and consuming them from whole foods like fish is generally recommended. Supplements can be beneficial in certain situations, but it’s best to discuss their use with your healthcare provider.

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