The Wild Guide To Fish Oil
"Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that we must get from our diets because our bodies cannot make them; they are crucial for early brain development, and there is much evidence that they promote cardiovascular health and cognitive function."
- Joel Fuhrman
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to human health and yet most people don't eat enough omega-3s mostly because our processed food supply is severely lacking in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids
Whenever you see the word "essential" in front of a nutrient, take note because this is something your body doesn't produce yet needs to live—meaning you have to ingest it through your food. (Essential fatty acids and amino acids are the primary crucial macro-nutrients in the human diet.)
The three essential fatty acids for humans are:
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid - found in plant oils)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
- DPA (docosapentaenoic acid)
I call this the "fake" omega-3 because less than 1% of ALA can be converted into the more beneficial—and less often consumed—EPA and DHA.
Consuming ALA can contribute to the omega-3 problem since so many people get duped by marketing into thinking they are "taking their omega-3s" when consuming products high in ALA (like flax, walnuts, and other plant oils). While they are actually "consuming omega-3s," they aren't getting the fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are the fatty acids they are trying to get and the very reason one would supplement with omega-3s in the first place.
Finally, keep in mind that any fatty acid that comes from a plant is in a form that is already over-consumed in the typical Western diet, while EPA and DHA are severely under-consumed. And since the goal is leveling out the balance, your general rule should be this:
- Avoid foods high in ALA, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids (not because you should never eat them, but because you are likely ingesting too many already).
- Eat as many EPA/DHA-rich foods as you can.
EPA AND DHA
EPA and DHA are behind the majority of research around beneficial fatty acids. These are abundant in seafood and certain pastured animals—beef, venison, lamb, and kangaroo.
These are the fatty acids most of us don't eat enough.
For optimum health, a human should consume an equal ratio of each omega-3 fatty acid in the proportion that nature intended—as close to a 1:1 ratio as possible.
The problem is that the typical Western diet includes an overabundance of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids coupled with a lack of omega-3 fatty acids—especially in EPA, DHA, and DPA forms.
Your goal with any omega-3 fish oil supplement is to readjust the balance to this 1:1 ratio as best as possible.
For example, if you consume 100 grams of omega-6 fatty acids over a few days and only 20 grams of omega-3s in EPA/DHA form, your ratio would be in the 5:1 range. (Most people have something like a 10:1 or 20:1 range of omega-6 to omega-3... yikes!)
Aim to ingest 1 gram of EPA/DHA for every 1 gram of omega-6. Hint: Eliminate processed, refined foods that come in packages and eliminate most omega-6 heavy foods (and sugar and other junk that doesn't belong in your body).
The "new" omega-3 kid on the block is receiving attention due to new research. Menhaden fish is the highest known concentration of DPA with around 0.66g per tbsp (13.6g) serving, while salmon clocks in at 2nd with 0.407g per 1 tbsp serving. DPA is also found in certain beef variety meats and by-products (brain being one).
DPA is found in many tissues in your body, from the heart to kidneys to skeletal muscle.
Fish Oil Benefits
The following claims include some that are purported and some that are researched, benefits of consuming fish oil. Some have more research than others, but in aggregate, there is a reason that fish oil is doctors' most widely prescribed nutrition supplement.
Fish Oil and ADHD
People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder tend to be hyperactive and may have trouble paying attention. We say “people” because this disorder isn’t exclusive to children; it can also affect teens and continue into adulthood.
A 2012 controlled study involved children from 6 to 12 years old with ADHD who were treated with methylphenidate and standard behavior therapy for over six months with no positive changes and were given Omega-3 and Omega-6 supplements.
They found “statistically significant improvement” in the group taking the Omega fatty acids regarding restlessness, aggressiveness, completing homework, and academic performance.
A separate study found that increasing Omega-3 intake, specifically DHA, may improve literacy and behavior in children with ADHD.
Improving the Immune System
Fish oil helps improve your immune system by reducing inflammation and blood chemistry. In particular, DHA-rich fish oil enhances the activity of B cells, white blood cells critical to the immune system, and the production of antibodies.
Another study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology conducted on animals with similar immune systems to humans revealed that when the antioxidant astaxanthin is combined with fish oil, immune system capabilities multiply.
Salmon is a fish that naturally contains both fish oil and astaxanthin. There are also fish oil products that contain astaxanthin.
Fish oil and anxiety
Sometimes the cause of your worries isn’t the things that cause concerns. In many cases, anxiety is due to hormonal or chemical imbalances in the body.
In 2013, the European Journal of Neuroscience published a study showing that fish oil reversed all anxiety-like and depression-like behavior changes in rats.
But that was rats! Where’s the human proof? Among people, it was found that populations that eat more fish tend to suffer less from anxiety. Epidemiological data and observational studies also show that a higher fish or DHA and EPA intake is directly associated with a lower incidence of depressive disorders in non-psychiatrically ill and psychiatrically ill populations.
While further study is required, the fact remains that for several years now, the direct connection between fish oil consumption and Alzheimer’s disease prevention has been proven with consistent results.
The fatty acids in fish oil are vital to brain function, slow cognitive decline, and prevent brain atrophy in older adults.
A study conducted by researchers at the Rhode Island Hospital established conclusive results when examining the relationship between fish oil supplements and indicators of cognitive decline among older adults.
The study was conducted on 229 cognitively normal individuals, 397 patients with mild cognitive impairment, and 193 patients with Alzheimer’s. Over an established period, they ran magnetic resonance imaging scans of the participants’ brains every six months to check for brain atrophy and administered neuropsychological tests.
Random samples of the test group were given fish oil supplements while the rest were not. The study found that the adults who had not yet developed Alzheimer’s and did not have a genetic risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s who took the fish oil experienced significantly less cognitive decline and brain shrinkage than test subjects who did not take fish oil.
Fish oil and Arthritis
Millions around the world suffer from this crippling disease, however, they need not suffer from it anymore with the proper treatment –fish oil.
An 18-month study published in 2014 showed the results of tests on three groups of people with rheumatoid arthritis; one group was given borage seed oil rich in GLA, another group was assigned fish oil, and the last group a combination of both.
The study was designed to see how fish oil would measure up to borage seed oil, the typical remedy for rheumatoid arthritis. The results showed that fish oil was just as good as borage oil at combating rheumatoid arthritis. No therapy outperformed the other, and the results were the same for the three groups after nine months.
Another study showed that fish oil supplements worked just as well in relieving arthritic pain as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It is also a safer alternative to NSAIDs because it does not contain dangerous side effects.
FISH OIL AND CANCER
When it comes to cancer, fish oil is thought to help in two ways; first, it is believed to kill cancer cells. Second, it may be responsible for enhancing the effectiveness of conventional anti-cancer drugs.
A scientific review was published in 2013 supporting the connection between Omega-3 fatty acids and prostate cancer prevention. Researchers have found evidence suggesting that Omega-3s have an antiproliferative effect on cancer cells, inhibiting cancer cell growth. It was also proven that Omega-3 fatty acids inhibited tumor growth. (1)
Another study in India on the effects of fish on chemosensitizer tumor cells found that using 5-Fluorouracil to treat colorectal cancer and fish oil increased the survival rate in carcinogen-treated animals.
The same study also proved that fish oil relieves hematologic depression and gastrointestinal, hepatic, and renal toxicity caused by anti-cancer drugs. (1)
Lastly, a scientific review published in 2014 that sought to find the effects of Omega-3 intake on the prevention and treatment of breast cancer found that EPA and DHA, as well as ALA, can differentially inhibit breast tumor development. The study said there was sufficient evidence to recommend using Omega-3 acids to prevent and treat breast cancer. (1)
Post-Cardiovascular Disease Treatment
More conclusive and decisive studies have yet to prove fish oil can prevent cardiovascular disease, but those studies are being conducted as many are trying to establish the link between fish oil consumption and lowered risk of this illness.
According to one such study conducted in the Cardiovascular Research Institute in Maastricht in the Netherlands, replacing fat with carbohydrates to prevent cardiovascular disease, long thought of as a solution to this problem, may do more harm than good. They also found that fatty acids have been observed to prevent the conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease.
What is certain, however, is that fish oil is suitable for those recovering from cardiovascular disease and those who have recently suffered from heart attacks.
One study into the effects of fish oil on heart attack survivors found that Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil are associated with improved survival rates for heart attack victims. Test subjects given a high dose of fish oil for six months following a heart attack were found to have improved their hearts’ overall functioning. They also found evidence of reduced systemic inflammation.
Fish oil and depression
Scientists would like to find a link between fish oil and depression, but this theory has not yet been substantiated.
A large study in Norway involving nearly 22,000 participants revealed that those who regularly consumed fish oil were about 30 percent less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who did not.
Other studies also found that people diagnosed with depression reported reduced intensity of anxiety, sleep disturbances, and sexual dysfunction when supplementing with fish oils.
According to the Mayo Clinic, fish oil should never be considered a replacement for the medical treatment of depression. Still, it may be helpful as an addition to prescribed medications or other forms of treatment.
Fish oil and Diabetes
Consuming fish oil has been proven to help prevent diabetes and treat existing diabetic conditions.
According to WebMD, research suggests that fish oil supplements can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Harvard researchers found that fish oils increase adiponectin hormone levels, which is linked to insulin sensitivity.
Another study found that fish oil can help reduce the risk of people with diabetes developing cognitive deficits by protecting the hippocampus cells from being destroyed.
Here’s another eye-opener. According to a study, fish oil consumption can reduce the risk of diabetic eye complications. The study was conducted on about 3,600 diabetic men and women between 55 and 80 years of age for nearly five years. The researchers found that people who regularly consumed 500 milligrams of Omega-3 fatty acids daily were 48 percent less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy than those who consumed less.
Fish oil and Eye Disorders
It’s not just diabetics who can prevent eye problems by taking fish oil supplements. Fish oil has been shown to reverse eye disorders many people develop as they age.
In 2009 the National Eye Institute released a study that found age-related eye diseases and macular degeneration were lower by 30 percent in people who regularly consumed fish oil as part of their diet compared to others who didn’t.
A higher intake of fish oil has also been linked to reduced levels of cortical cataracts. Essential fatty acids also improve the drainage of intraocular fluid from the eye, lowering the risk of high eye pressure and glaucoma.
Improving Skin and Hair
Good news for women; fish oil can make your hair look fabulous, and your skin looks smooth and feel supple. Who knew something so slimy could be so good for you?
Fish oil nourishes the skin with fats and contributes fat-soluble vitamins that give it a smooth, elastic texture. Fish oil has also been proven to prevent wrinkles and signs of skin aging.
EPA and DHA deficiency has been linked to skin conditions, such as dandruff, eczema, and psoriasis, as well as age spots, sun spots, and thinning hair.
Without essential fatty acids, too much moisture leaves the skin. Taking fish oil internally as a supplement may be as good as or even better than applying conventional moisturizers.
Another way fish oil can give you healthier skin is by reducing inflammation. Research shows fish oil supplements can even reduce sun-induced inflammation and relieve sunburn. Next time you go to the beach, have fish oil with you.
Fish oil and Fertility
This goes for both men and women. Recent studies show fish oil consumption can improve fertility in men. DHA plays a vital role in the mobility and health of sperm.
In particular, the DHA in fish oil is essential to changing dysfunctional round-headed sperm into strong swimmers with cone-shaped heads (kind of like fish) packed with egg-opening proteins.
In women, fish oil has increased fertility by reducing inflammation, balancing hormones, and regulating menstrual cycles.
Fish oil has also been found to be effective in treating conditions that cause infertility, like polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis.
Fish oil and Pregnancy
We have already mentioned that DHA is suitable for children, but it is also good for expectant mothers leading up to delivery.
It’s ideal for expectant mothers to have fish oils before, during, and after pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association, most American women are deficient in EPA and especially DHA going into pregnancy. This deficiency builds up during pregnancy because the placenta supplies the fetus with DHA from the mother’s tissue.
Omega-3 fatty acids also seem to reduce the chance of premature delivery. EPA and DHA intake can help support healthy labor and delivery outcomes. Post-birth, these two fatty acids also help normalize the mood and overall well-being of the mother.
Fish oil Weight Loss
In 2007, Australian researchers published a study examining the combined effects of fish oil and exercise on weight loss. According to the study, incorporating fish oil supplements and regular exercise can reduce body fat while improving heart and metabolic health.
Two groups were studied; one was provided with fish oil supplements in their diet, and the other group was not. The group taking fish oil registered lower triglycerides, increased HDL cholesterol, and improved blood flow during the research period.
Another study had test subjects undergoing a controlled diet for three weeks where fish oil was served as a substitute for visible fats like butter and cream. Researchers found that body fat decreased with the intake of fish oil and the test subjects also registered a marked increase in physical activity. They concluded that dietary fish oil reduces body fat and stimulates the use of fatty acids to produce energy in healthy adults.
Where To Find Omega-3s
- Wild Fish Oil 100% Menhaden Oil
- Cod liver oil
- Fish roe
- Omega-3 eggs
- Pastured butter
- Pastured red meats - beef, lamb
- Wild game
Sourcing quality Omega-3-rich proteins is becoming more complex and expensive as our food system moves to more eating out, meat from factory farms, overfishing, and constant marketing and manipulation by the food companies and the media.
Then there's the issue: some people don't like seafood while others don't eat it enough.
No wonder there's such a lack of omega-3s in our diet.
Thankfully there are omega-3 supplements. While they shouldn't be considered a replacement for eating omega-3-rich foods as often as you can, a quality omega-3 fish oil supplement can do wonders for supporting your health and lifestyle.
Best Fish For Fish Oil?
What species of fish provide the most abundant forms of fish oil? You might be surprised.
Predatory fish, with big fat and muscle on their frames, such as sharks, swordfish, tilefish, and albacore tuna, are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, these sources do not make for the best fish oil because of the toxins that consume many other smaller fish species.
These toxins and contaminants include but are not limited to mercury, dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls, and chlordane. On a side note: this is why the United States Environmental Protection Agency also recommends limiting consumption of the mentioned species, especially for pregnant women and women of childbearing age.
It is ideal for getting your fish oil from cold-water oily fish, such as menhaden (our favorite), salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and other fish that aren't apex predators and that have shorter lifespans (which reduces toxin exposure).
"Interesting fish oil fact: There is a bigger market for fish oil than human consumption. Fish oil is a primary component in aquaculture feed, and over half of all fish oil harvested worldwide is fed to farmed salmon."
How To Take Fish Oil
Since many of the ways we prepare fish cause it to lose its oil, manufacturers have come up with different ways to make fish oil available to the public in its purest form.
This is also ideal for those of us who cannot eat fish because of allergies or other dietary restrictions.
Fish Oil Softgels
Soft gelatin capsules are a convenient and flavorless way to take fish oil.
Moreover, soft gels are easier on the throat than tablets and not as challenging to swallow thanks to their texture and overall lack of taste. This is particularly useful for people with a strong gag reflex.
Liquid Fish Oil
If you are taking fish oil for its anti-inflammatory effects, chances are you might not be taking enough pills daily. Furthermore, the liquid form of fish oil is typically more bioavailable and more rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
While they can be assured of the proper dosage, some people are not particularly enamored with the taste of liquid fish oil. However, there is hope. And that hope is named Wild Fish Oil.
Fish Oil: One Of The Most Popular Supplements
These are likely why fish oil has become one of the most commonly used supplements in the world. Not to mention the fact that the fish oil research is quite compelling.
Yet, the thought of swallowing large pills or drinking a "fishy" oil on the regular isn't ideal for some.
Fortunately for them—for everyone, we've come up with what we feel is the perfect omega-3 solution.
Our 100% menhaden is not only sustainable, but it also contains a rarer omega-3 that may be even more potent than the EPA and DHA found in typical fish oils. This newly discovered omega-3 is called DPA and is still being studied enthusiastically.