Many people take fish oil supplements to stock up on essential long-chain fatty acids that support a healthy heart and reduce inflammation in the body.
Detailed below are all the benefits from fish oil as well as a few side effects to be aware of.
1Fish oil supports a healthy heart. Eating fish is highly correlated to lower rates of heart disease (1, 2). The reason is because of high rates in fish oil that works to decrease risk factors for heart disease through a few different mechanisms.
2Fish oil is seen to improve cholesterol levels. Fish oil does increase your HDL cholesterol, often referred to as the good cholesterol but it doesn’t reduce the levels of LDL (known as ‘bad’) cholesterol (3, 4, 5).
Further, fish oil supplementation is seen to lower your levels of triglycerides by about 23% (6, 7). Aside from improving blood lipid profiles, fish oil is proven to reduce high blood pressure levels down to moderate and even normal levels of blood pressure (8, 9).
3Fish oil can prevent your arteries from being clogged with plaques (10).
In the case that you already have plaques in your arteries, fish oil can help make them more stable so that they don’t burst and cause a coronary event (11).
4Fish oil can reduce the occurrence of heart attacks. Especially those with abnormal heart rhythms (12). Despite all these benefits to fish oil supplementation, there is no concrete proof that that fish oil can prevent heart attack or stroke (13).
5Fish oil works to treat certain mental disorders. Structurally, your brain is composed largely of fat, nearly 60% by weight, a majority of this fat consists of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s been seen that omega-3 fatty acids, or fish oils, are essential for normal brain function (14).
Research shows that without adequate levels of fish oil in the brain, you’re likely to also have certain mental disorders (15). So, it makes sense that fish oil supplementation can prevent or improve the condition of certain mental conditions.
One example is that fish oil can reduce the risk of psychotic disorders (16, 17). Fish oil is also seen to be effective in improving the lives of those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (18, 19, 20, 21).
6Fish oil supplementation can improve body composition. Obesity, defined as having a BMI (Body Mass Index) of over 30, show a significantly higher risk of other diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer (22, 23, 24).
Fortunately, research shows that consuming fish oil supplements can work to improve body composition as well as the associated risk factors for heart disease in obese individuals (25).
This effect is increased by adding diet or exercise to a fish oil supplementation regimen (26). By itself, fish oil is not seen to cause weight loss.
A large review of 21 different studies discovered that while fish oil doesn’t cause weight loss it does change anthropometric measurements such as waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio, which are both strongly correlated with heart disease (27).
7Fish oil supports eye health and protects your vision. Your eyes use omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, as important structural components. In fact, when subjects do not consume enough omega-3 fatty acids research shows these individuals have an increased risk of various eye diseases (28).
Even more important, as you age the health of your eyes is seen to gradually decline, leading to age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
By consuming fish oil you’re able to prevent this from occurring (29). Specifically, research illustrates that consuming a high dose fish oil supplement for over four months led to improvements in vision in AMD patients (30).
8Fish oil can reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is key to fighting infection and healing injuries throughout your body. The issue with inflammation is that in can occur chronically at low levels because chronic inflammation is seen to increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, depression, and heart disease (33, 34, 35).
Decrease levels of inflammation in people at risk for these same disorders can work to improve the symptoms of these patients. The fats in fish oil are seen to reduce chronic inflammation to reduce severity of disease that involve chronic inflammation (36).
One example of this is that fish oil can lower levels of cytokines, or inflammatory molecules, in individuals that are stressed or obese (37).
Further, when subjects with rheumatoid arthritis supplement with fish oil they see a reduction in joint pain, stiffness, and prescription medications (38).
9Fish oil can improve your skin health. Your skin is another organ that contains many omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. Like your eyes and brain, the health of your skin is seen to decrease with age- especially in response to sun exposure.
10Fish oil plays a key role in improving the health of the fetus. If you’re pregnant then know that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for early growth and development of your child (41).
One study showed that pregnant or breastfeeding mothers taking a fish oil supplement had children with improved hand and eye coordination compared to the infants of mothers who didn’t take fish oil supplements (42).
The effect of the infant’s ability to learn was not clear from this study (43). However, maternal supplementation of fish oil is seen to improve visual development in infants as well as reduce the risk of allergies (44, 45).
11Fish oil can lower levels of liver fat. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming America’s top silent killer (46). Because your liver works to process fat in your body, it influences weight gain (47).
Studies show that supplementing with fish oil, to increase these low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, can reduce the symptoms of depression (52, 53). It seems that EPA, a specific fatty acid in fish oil, is more effect than another long-form omega-3 fatty acid, known as DHA, in reducing the symptoms of depression (54).
13Fish oil can improve focus and attention in children. Researchers hypothesized that since omega-3 fatty acids are essential to brain health, that giving them to children can prevent behavioral disorders early in life (55).
14 Fish oil improves reduces the risk of allergies in children and infants. Levels of allergies and asthma are on the rise, especially in infants (58). Fortunately, research in fish oil strongly supports that fish oil can significantly lower asthma symptoms (59, 60).
Specifically, research done on almost 100,000 subjects show that the intake of fish oil by the mother can lower the risk of asthma in her children by up to 29% (61). Similarly, the risk of allergies in infants is significantly reduced (62).
15Fish oil can increase your bone density. Bones decay with age and poor nutrition leading to diseases such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. In addition to calcium and vitamin D, fish oil is seen to be of great benefit to your bones.
First, a correlation was discovered where those with higher fish oil intakes had greater bone mineral density (63). Further research shows that fish oil supplementation lowers the levels of bone breakdown, which shows promise in preventing bone disease (64).
1Fish oil supplements can be linked to prostate cancer in men. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a study relating high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids to the incidence of prostate cancer.
834 men diagnosed with prostate cancer were studies and found that those with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids saw a 43% increased risk of developing cancer when compared to the men with the lowest omega-3 fatty acid concentration (65).
300mg of EPA and DHA is a good starting point. The amount of EPA and DHA recommended depend on your age and health. 300mg is a good starting point. From there if you do not see benefits especially if you’re an athlete, pregnant, nursing, or at risk of heart disease (66).
Choose fish oils that are processed via the re-esterified triglyceride oil process. It may be slightly more expensive, but has a higher bioavailability than other options.
The amount of fish oil is different from the amount of essential fatty acids. Many supplements contain a gram of fish oil but only 300 mg of EPA and DHA.
Always read the label and make sure your supplement has at least 500 mg of EPA and DHA per 1,000 mg of fish oil.
Choose a supplement that is ‘third party tested’ to avoid substandard supplements. Especially since fish oils are prone to oxidation.
Furthermore, choosing a supplement with vitamin E as well as storing your supplements in a dark cold place, like your fridge, will lead to a longer shelf life. Don’t use a fish oil supplement that has a rancid smell or is out of date.
Fish oil is a fat so it is best absorbed during meals that contain other fats (67).
Can fish oil help you lose weight? While they may help prevent accumulation of body fat and play a role in decreasing unhealthy belly fat, fish oil supplements may not be very effective at helping you lose weight.
Is fish oil good for your skin? The fatty acids in fish oil supply hydration to your skin and help with inflammation.
Is fish oil good for your joints? One-to-three grams of fish oil each day can help reduce the intensity of joint symptoms like morning stiffness, tenderness, swelling, and discomfort.
Is fish oil good for hair growth? Nourishing your skin means that fish oil also nourishes your scalp, which could indirectly benefit the health of your hair. And a study published in the “Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology” in 2015 reported that a supplement containing omega-3 fatty acids might help with hair thinning.
When should you take fish oil? Fatty acid supplements like fish oil may actually cause gastric distress and indigestion when consumed immediately prior to a big workout. For this reason, you should take a fish oil at the same time you take your multivitamin, with your primary meal of the day.
Can you take fish oil on an empty stomach There’s no best time to take omega 3 fish oil but omega 3 supplements are more easily tolerated with food than on an empty stomach. They are also better absorbed with food. As such it’s recommended you take it with food.
Can you use fish oil for cooking? Due to its high concentration of polyunsaturated fats, fish oil should never be used for cooking.
What are the side effects of fish oil? Fish oil can cause side effects including belching, bad breath, heartburn, nausea, loose stools, rash, and nosebleeds. Taking fish oil supplements with meals or freezing them can often decrease these side effects.
For the average person, starting with a regular fish oil supplement will significantly improve their health. Be sure the supplement is from a quality source and contains what it claims to- especially look for the EPA and DHA content.
Sources of EPA and DHA are most beneficial in animal-based omega-3 products (the exception is algal products). While vegetarian options are available they only contain the short-form fatty acid, ALA.
The bottom line is that omega-3 supplements may be one of the most beneficial nutrients you can consume.