Fish Oil Benefits
The Benefits of Fish Oil
For thousands of years the oceans of the Earth have provided mankind with a food source that has become a staple for millions around the world - fish.
There are thousands of species of edible fish swimming out there, each providing a different taste, flavor, and texture depending on how they are prepared and served.
Many of these fish find their way to the tables of not just those who consume them for nourishment and subsistence, but also to the plates of food enthusiasts who fry them, pickle them, steam them, boil them, or even eat them raw.
Yes, they are good to eat, but as delicious as they are, for some edible fish the meat is just the icing on the cake.
Some kinds of fish actually offer more than immediate nourishment and pleasure to the palate; they can improve your overall health.
So what’s in some of these fish that’s good for humans aside from their meat? Their oil.
What is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is the oil derived from the tissue of oily fish. We call it fish oil, but fish do not actually produce the oil themselves. Their bodies store oils, but do not make them. Fish consume microalgae and prey fish that have the oils, that then allows us to get the oil from the fish.
Types of Oil From Fish
There are actually several kinds of oil you can get from fish.
Shark Liver Oil
Many kinds of fish maintain their buoyancy with swim bladders, but sharks do not have swim bladders, instead they have large livers that are full of oil. Aside from maintaining buoyancy, the stored oil serves as a nutrient store allowing them to go through long periods of time without eating when food is scarce.
Deep-sea sharks are usually targeted for their oil because, unlike sharks that are frequently sighted near the surface and inspire blockbuster suspense films, deep sea shark’s livers account for up to 5 to 10 percent of their total weight.
Cod Liver Oil
The oil from the liver of cod fish gained popularity as a dietary supplement after it was found to be high in vitamins A and D. Health experts recommend taking this oil during the winter months when you spend less time outdoors and in the sunshine. However, it is not recommended for pregnant women or people at high risk for liver problems or osteoporosis because of its high vitamin A content.
To extract this oil, cod livers are steamed and then pressed. The oil can then be prepared either as a capsule or in liquid form.
The heating process is known to cause the loss of some vitamins, so several manufacturers ferment the liver before processing them. This allows the separation of fat-soluble vitamins from the liver without damaging them.
You might be wondering why the two types mentioned above are not considered fish oil. Yes, their oil comes from sharks and cod, and yes, sharks and cod are also fish, so they are oils that come from fish, but they are not fish oil.
Unlike those oils mentioned above, fish oil comes from the flesh of the fish, including the flesh of sharks can cod, though it will be different from the oil you can get from their livers.
Why is Fish Oil Healthy?
There are two main types of Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil that have been proven to be healthy for humans; these are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A new omega-3 that's a late-comer to the field is DPA, which is showing great signs for anti-inflammatroy effects in recent research. (Hint: our Wild Fish Oil has DPA, which is the rarest of the omega-3s.)
This essential fatty acid has been proven to be an effective treatment against inflammation.
The human body can actually convert alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, another essential fatty acid) to EPA. However, the conversion rate of ALA to EPA our bodies carry out isn’t efficient enough to ensure we have a sufficient amount. The best way to have an adequate EPA level is to eat food containing it.
Aside from fish, this fatty acid is available to humans from some non-animal sources. While it’s not usually found in higher plants, trace amounts of EPA have been found in purslane. In 2013, it was reported that a genetically modified form of the plant Camelina produced significant amounts of EPA.
If this sounds familiar to you, it is because many infant milk formulas also tout having DHA for brain and body development. Fatty acids are believed to be good for the brain since 60 percent of the brain is composed of fats.
DHA is a primary structural component of the brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. Aside from being found in fish oil, it can be synthesized from alpha-linolenic acid, and can also be found in breast milk or algae oil.
Most of the DHA in fish and multicellular organisms that regularly consume cold-water oceanic foods originates from photosynthetic and heterotrophic microalgae. The DHA becomes increasingly concentrated as it goes up the food chain.
DHA can also be manufactured from the microalgae, Crypthecodinium cohnii, and others of the genus Schizochytrium. Companies specifically make them for vegetarians and vegans who would otherwise have no access to DHA at all.
EPA and DHA are both Omega-3 fatty acids. The number might have you wondering if there are other Omega-numbered fatty acids out there. Yes, in fact there are, but they aren’t derived from fish.
For instance, Omega-5 is a unique essential fatty acid obtained from the seed of the pomegranate, it is also the only known botanical form of Conjugated Linolenic Acid or Punicic Acid.
Omega-6 fatty acids come from poultry, eggs, nuts, cereals, durum wheat, whole-grain bread, most vegetable oils, and grape seed oil.
There are also Omega-7 fatty acids, which are formed from atoms at the end of the carbon chain. Sources of these acids include macadamia nut oil and sea buckthorn oil. The two most common Omega-7 fatty acids in nature are palmitoleic acid and vaccenic acid.
Omega-7 and 9 fatty acids are considered "non-essential," which means your body doesn't need them to survive. While omega-6 is a necessary fatty acid, there is simply too much of it in the modern Western diet, which is why fish oil is one of the most important supplements in our culture. (Hint: omega-6s are often heavily concentrated in processed foods.)
EPA vs. DHA
When it comes to EPA and DHA, it’s not really a question of which fatty acid is better, but rather, what fatty acid would be more appropriate for you during each stage of your life.
Much like our diet, as we get older, our EPA and DHA requirements actually change. For instance, children require DHA for growth and body and brain development. Adequate DHA levels are recommended up until the age they start school.
From age five the development of the brain and central nervous system starts to slow down, so does the body’s need for DHA. From here on, the body will need adequate levels of EPA.
EPA has been proven to help with behavior, attention, reduced aggression, and academic performance among children.
Among adults, EPA promotes gene and cell cycles and also keeps stress levels regulated.
An adequate supply of EPA can also help prevent a range of chronic illnesses.
Low EPA levels have been linked to mental health issues, including depression, dyslexia and dyspraxia, heart problems, and joint and bone conditions. Low levels have also been linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.
Think you are too old for DHA? Think again. Adult women will see an increased need for DHA before, during, and after pregnancy. Pregnant women should get an adequate amount of DHA for the babies in their womb and themselves, but more on that later.
For those in advanced age, high EPA levels have been shown to be linked to a lowered risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
However, for those already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, DHA is important still because of the need for enhanced structural support of the brain to prevent further brain tissue loss.
EPA is a precursor to DHA. This makes ensuring adequate EPA levels in a diet with neither EPA nor DHA a challenge because of the extra metabolic work required to synthesize EPA from ALA, and because of the natural process that turns EPA into DHA.
For some people, medical conditions like diabetes or certain allergies may significantly limit the body's capacity to metabolize ALA into EPA.
All that being said, the fact is simply this for 99% of readers: You probably don't get enough of either EPA or DHA (or DPA), so don't worry much about getting more than the other.... get them all!
There are many studies that point to the benefits of omega-3s in improving general health as well as combating a myriad of disease. Common to each disease is inflammation.
Inflammation is the process in which white blood cells, immune cells and other molecular processes fight infection from, like bacteria and viruses, or in the repair of damaged tissues—the healing process.
Inflammation helps keep us all alive, making it fundamental to life and survival.
But inflammation that is chronic leads to a host of diseases including cancer, arthritis, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, heart disease, and nearly every known autoimmune disorder.
Because inflammation is involved in so many parts of the body and has so many effects, it's hard to pinpoint the exact cause and effect—we don't yet have that kind of technology.
That's why it is so important to live a balanced and overall healthy life with lots of sleep, Real Foods, exercise, fun, movement, and eating enough omega-3s, to name a few. Doing the things that make you feel healthy and happy is your best defense against chronic inflammation and the many diseases that such a state leads to.
Because omega-3s have been shown to improve many processes in the body, it has become known as potent "inflammation fighter."
Other omega-3 benefits backed by research include fetal development, cardiovascular health and preventing Alzheimer's disease. (1)