What is special about fish oil? It’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. These must come from food, as our body cannot produce them.
The two most important omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardine are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Some plants are rich in another type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid, which the body can convert into DHA and EPA. Good sources for this are flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and rapeseed oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain function, normal growth and development, and inflammation. Deficiencies have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers, mood disorders, arthritis, and more. However, this does not mean that taking high doses will lead to better health and disease prevention.
Fish oil supplements have been touted as an easy way to protect the heart, reduce inflammation, improve mental health, and extend life. Such claims are one reason Americans spend more than $ 1 billion annually on over-the-counter fish oil. And food companies add it to milk, yogurt, granola, chocolate, cookies, juice, and hundreds of other foods.
However, the evidence of heart health improvement is mixed. In November 2018, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements did nothing to reduce heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from heart disease in middle-aged men and women with no known risk factors for the heart. Previous research, published in the same journal in 2013, also reported no benefit in people with risk factors for heart disease.
However, when examining subgroups of people who did not eat fish, the results suggested that they could reduce their cardiovascular risk by taking a fish oil supplement.
When it comes to delving into the fish oil debate, we’re really talking about the active ingredients of omega-3 fatty acids. The researchers are focusing on the DHA and EPA components of omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential nutrients that we need and we get them from the foods we eat.
“We have to recognize that not all fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids. The component of interest is actually omega-3, ”said Viet Le, PA-C, assistant to a cardiovascular physician at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute.
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