Power Supplement: Fish Oil
As an Integrative Physician with a passion for natural measures, I am excited to share with you the second in a series of articles we call “Power Supplements”. The goal is to educate and inspire you towards optimal health, always with an emphasis on natural, inexpensive, and practical ideas.
So what’s next? Fish Oil (aka Omega-3 fatty acids)
The story of omega-3 fatty acids dates back to at least the 1950s, when cod liver oil was found to be effective in treating ailments like eczema and arthritis. (Turns out Grandma was right when she tried to bribe you to swallow cod liver oil… Respect!)
In the 1980s, scientists reported that Eskimos eating a fish-rich diet enjoyed better cardiac health than counterparts consuming mainland foods.
Fish oil is rich in two essential fatty acids that have profound health-promoting effects: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). They are present in the cell membranes of all cells, but especially concentrated in the brain, heart, and testes.
Reasons we love fish oil:
1. It prevents sudden cardiac death
HELLO!!... Anyone been hearing about “sudden cardiac death” lately!?
I remember discovering this way back during my medical school days at Harvard, when one of our faculty published this review article.
Prior to his research, there was already a well-established association between fatty fish consumption and reduced fatal heart attacks, but the reason was not precisely understood. His contribution was to discover how: fatty acids from n-3 fish oils are stored in the cell membranes of heart cells and act to stabilize them from aberrant discharges.
MMmmm..Okay.. Sign me up.
2. Other significant cardiac benefits
It also helps reduce the development of atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”), lowers triglyceride levels, and lowers blood pressure (read here and here).
Extra credit: My other all-time favorite cardiovascular supplement is Nattokinase, which thins the blood, dissolves clots, reverses atherosclerosis, lowers blood pressure, and improves cholesterol levels.
3. Profound anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
As with our good friend NAC, fish oil shows notable anti-inflammatory (inhibits COX) and anti-oxidant functions (stimulates NRF 2 pathways, boosts Superoxide Dismutase and Catalase activity, reduces F2 isoprostanes). Hence, we discover benefit for…
Arthritis:This study in older and overweight individuals showed a 42% reduction in pain after 4 months.
Autoimmune problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus erythematosus, and multiple sclerosis (read here).
4. Amazing for the brain
Ever heard of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)? Well, it strengthens neural connections in areas critical to learning and memory. Think of it like “Miracle Gro” for the brain.
Guess what? DHA supplementation increases BDNF levels. It also promotes the growth of new neurons. Additionally, omega-3s benefit the brain due to their aformentioned anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects.
Bonus: As a result, they hold promise for conditions like Alzheimer’s (they also stimulate the glymphatic system to clear beta Amyloid), depression, schitzophrenia and traumatic brain injury (including concussion). (Read more here and here.)
Bonus: If you would like further exploration of BDNF and other brain health concepts, we did this podcast series and created this brain health curriculum.
5. Boost energy by optimizing mitochondrial health
Does the phrase “mitochondrial biogenesis” mean anything to you? Well, to be honest, it makes my heart go pitter-pat because I understand what is behind that concept – the creation of new mitochondria within our cells. More mitochondria = more energy production = improved function of any given organ.
Mitochondrial function is so important to human health that there is even a well-established concept called “the mitochondrial theory of aging”, which considers loss of mitochondrial number and function as a central pillar in the aging process.
It turns out that omega-3 fatty acids stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis and enhance mitochondrial efficiency (read here).
6. Strength and muscle gains.
Several years ago my interest was piqued when I read of a nationally-known strength coach who insisted his clients supplement with fish oil. Now I know why: omega 3-s directly enhance muscle protein synthesis while simultaneously decreasing protein breakdown (read here). The effect is so striking that benefit has been noted, for example, even amongst elderly, non-athletes and patients with cancer.
Wow!.. So there you have it…Somebody pass the salmon, please.
Best absorption if taken with food. Goal is 2-3,000 mg a day (combined DHA and/or EPA).
If you are interested, here is my best brand recommendation (availability, quality, potency and cost).
Yours In Health and Wellness,
Eating 4oz of fish two to three times a week works well for Omega-3 requirements as well. And it is recommended to get as much nutrients from fresh food as much as possible...!