Fish oil is probably the most important dietary source of omega-3 fatty
acids, which are vital nutrients. Omega-3 fatty acids are one type of
essential fatty acids, special fats that the body needs as much as it needs
vitamins. Much of the research into the potential therapeutic benefits of
omega-3 fatty acids began when studies of the Inuit (Eskimo) people found
that although their diets contain an enormous amount of fat from fish,
seals, and whales, they seldom suffer heart attacks or develop rheumatoid
arthritis. This is presumably because those sources of fat are very high in
omega-3 fatty acids.
These fatty acids reduce inflammation, protect against the abnormal clotting
associated with heart attacks, and possibly inhibit cancer. These omega-3
fatty acids differ structurally from omega-6 fatty acids. Evidence from
studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the chances of getting
atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headaches, and other heart
and inflammatory diseases.
A study suggests that fish oil can be very helpful for bipolar disease, more
commonly known as manic-depressive disorder. More research is needed, but
this appears to be a potential breakthrough for this devastating illness,
whose conventional treatments cause many side effects.
We do know that fish oil can lower serum triglycerides. Like cholesterol,
triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that tends to damage the
arteries, leading to heart disease. Reducing triglyceride levels should help
prevent heart disease to some extent. Fish oil also appears to modestly
raise the levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Additionally, it may help the
heart by “thinning” the blood and by reducing blood levels of homocysteine.
Blood clots play a major role in heart attacks, and homocysteine is an amino
acid that appears to raise the risk of heart disease.
A further benefit shown from the consumption of fish oil is in the
production of eicosanoid compounds. These are compounds, which regulate the
communication between cells. The species of eicosanoid produced from omega-3
fatty acids, as opposed to omega-6 fatty acids, seem to better regulate
immunological responses, such as the body tissue’s response to injury or
disease. There may be other benefits, too: A 1992 study in the journal The
Lancet, suggests that omega-3 fatty acids prolong pregnancy by a few days
and improve birth weights.
Fish oil appears to be safe. The most common complaint is fishy burps. Fish
oil should not be combined with powerful blood-thinning medications, such as
Coumadin (warfarin) or heparin, except on advice of your health care
EPAEicosapentaenoic acid is an omega 3 essential fatty acid. It is an
important fatty acid in the maintenance of cardiovascular health and the
regulation of inflammation. EPA is a precursor to a series of chemicals
whose job it is to regulate the inflammatory effects of arachidonic acid.
Too much arachidonic acid leads to pain and inflammation in conditions such
Arachidonic acid also causes inflammation in arteries and leads to the
development of atherosclerotic plaques. Deficiency of EPA can result in
cardiac arrhythmias, high cholesterol and excessive aging. EPA has been used
to treat heart disease, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
EPA can be taken in through the diet by eating fish or fish oil. The body
can also convert alpha linolenic acid (ALA), from vegetable sources like
flaxseeds, into EPA. However, the standard North American diet is deficient
in essential fatty acids, especially omega 3s and very few individuals have
enough excess ALA to meet the body’s need for EPA. Supplemental EPA is
usually made from tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel or sardines. These fish
contain more omega 3 rich fat than other fish species. Cod liver and halibut
liver oils also contain some omega 3s but are primarily used for their
vitamin A and D content. Some newer fish liver oils have been fortified with
EPA and may be an economical choice for those individuals taking both EPA
and liver oils.
Docosahexanoic acid is an omega 3 essential fatty acid. It is an
essential component of the brain and central nervous system. It seems to
concentrate in areas where there is lots of electrical activity such as the
synaptosomes, where nerve cells communicate, and the photoreceptors of the
eye. This is why a deficiency of DHA can result in poor brain development,
attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disorders, memory
problems and poor visual development.
Supplementation of DHA is especially important in pregnant women,
breastfeeding mothers and children. Some infant formulas are now fortified
with DHA because, in the past, formula has contained less essential fatty
acids than breast milk.