Fish oil is often hailed as a miracle treatment for a host of ailments – from arthritis, diabetes and some cancers to cardiovascular disease, depression and cognitive decline in older people.
But can fish oil really make a difference? If so, how much should you take?
The National Heart Foundation recommends an intake of 500mg of beneficial oils, known as omega-3 fatty acids, each day for general health.
According to Choice, Australians spend more than $200 million annually on fish oil supplements. This figure continues to grow as people seek natural and alternative medicines.
To get the most from your fish oil supplements, quality matters. A recent study published in Scientific Reports tested 32 fish oil supplements sold in Australia and found that only three contained the same or higher amounts of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fats stated on the labels.
Fish oil supplements are made from mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, cod liver or whale or seal blubber. To prevent the supplements from spoiling, small amounts of vitamin E is often added. Fish oil supplements begin to degrade around nine months after their production date. This process is accelerated if the supplements are exposed to oxidisation (light and air), which can interfere with the effectiveness of the fats contained.
Who will benefit from taking fish oil supplements?
Fish oil is most often used for conditions related to the heart and blood system, such as heart disease, stroke and blood pressure. Whether or not fish oil can treat as many conditions as it claims is yet to be substantiated.
Research shows that omega-3 fish oil may help to:
- lower blood pressure
- lower triglyceride levels
- slow down the build-up of fats in the arteries
- reduce the chance of abnormal heart rhythm
- seduce the chance of heart attack and stroke
- lessen the risk of sudden cardiac death in people with heart disease.
Scientific evidence suggests that fish oil does lower high triglyceride levels (fats related to cholesterol) by 20 – 50 per cent. It also seems to help prevent heart disease and stroke when taken in the recommended amounts. However, taking too much fish oil can actually increase your risk of stroke.
Fish oil is also taken to help fight depression, psychosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s disease and other brain conditions. Reputable studies show that fish oil holds promising results for mental health disorders and prenatal infant eye and brain development.
More conclusive evidence is needed to verify the claims that it can help with rheumatoid arthritis, period pain, diabetes, asthma, dyslexia, obesity, kidney disease, osteoporosis and muscular pain.
Taking fish oil supplements is not a bad thing, but unless they’re recommended by a health practitioner, it is best to get your omega-3 from fresh fish. Fish that are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids include krill, mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, trout and menhaden.
Fish oil can have side effects, so it’s best to speak to you doctor before supplementing your diet with omega-3 fish oil.
Read more at Body+Soul.