Out of the thousands of dietary supplements on the market, there are only a handful that deserve your consideration. Possibly the most well-researched, safe, and effective dietary supplement of all is fish oil.
So what is fish oil? Why is it important? How does it work? Should you bother taking it? I’m going to answer all these questions for you and more in this introductory article on fish oil supplements.
What is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is derived from the tissue of fatty fish. Fish oil contains Omega 3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA, which are “essential” to the human diet because our bodies can’t make them. As with a number of essential nutrients, some people don’t eat enough fish to have the levels of EPA and DHA necessary for optimal functioning and performance. This is where fish oil supplements can be very helpful.
Fish oil supplements are sold either in soft gels or in liquid form. Soft gels are usually the preferred form because of their convenience and lack of rancidity that comes from exposing the oil to air. The capsules block the oxygen and therefore delay the rancidity of the fats.
Benefits of Fish Oil Supplements: From Depression to Fat Loss
Fish oil’s implications for health benefits have been widely researched. The benefits of taking fish oil range from decreasing Depression and Alzheimer’s, to decreasing mortality from heart disease,1 to helping people improve their body composition.
Here’s a quick list of the benefits of fish oil supported by research:
- Decrease the incidence of depression and anxiety
- Decrease Blood Pressure
- Reduce the Stress response
- Assist in the treatment of psoriasis and dry skin
- Assist in decreasing your body’s insulin response to food
- Decrease whole body inflammation as marked by C-Reactive Protein
- Decrease Triglyceride levels
- Help with treating ADHD
- Assist in activating fat burning genes
- Assist in Muscle Protein Synthesis
Besides the overall health benefits, fish oil may also help improve lean body composition in a number of different ways. What this means is that if you’re a guy with more than 15% body fat or a woman with more than 25% body fat, fish oil may help you lose fat faster2 while also helping to stabilize any blood sugar issues you may have. In addition to helping you lose fat, fish oil may also help you put on muscle at a quicker rate. While in its infancy, recent research has shown that supplementing with 3 grams of EPA and DHA per day helped increase muscle protein synthesis within the muscle cells, which may help you add more muscle.3
What Does Fish Oil Do For Your Body? How Does It Work?
The proper functioning of the 10 trillion cells in your body influences your health in a wide array of ways. It’s on the outside membrane of your cells that Fish Oil, or more importantly the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, exert their influence.
Each cell membrane is made up of fat, which also holds a number of transport proteins. You can compare this cell membrane to a large party tent that has a number of entrances into and out of the tent. The doors into the tent are the transport proteins. In this tent example though, some doors only allow protein to come in and others only allow insulin to move through it.
You’ve no doubt heard the term, “You are what you eat.” In the case of cell membranes, the saying is quite literal. The fats you eat, whether they be saturated fats, Omega 6’s or Omega 3’s will then make up the composition of your cell membranes. The normal North American diet filled with many processed foods and oils, causes an over-abundance of Omega 6 fatty Acids to make up your cell membrane. For much of human evolution, the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid profile was close to 1.5 to 1.4 The current ratio is between 15 or 17 to 1. This altered ratio of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids cause an increase in cellular inflammation markers. 5
What this means is that those doors in and out of the cell are not easily accessible to the things that the cell needs. Bodyguards (inflammation) now stand guard blocking admission both outside the doors and also inside the tent. So instead of a fun party where things are going in and out of the tent as needed, everything going into and out of the tent is checked. This includes caterers, the guest of honor and everyone else in between. Needless to say this causes a back up of things coming and going and causes a hassle.
This is what happens when you have inflammation markers. The things that are supposed to be going into the cell (protein and insulin) are having a harder time getting in while things that are supposed to be leaving, waste products, stay around longer.
What Is The Best Fish Oil Supplement?
When it comes to finding a fish oil supplement, it’s critical to look at the label.
Most store-brand fish oils will have .18 grams of EPA and .12 grams of DHA in each capsule. Remember with fish oil that the important component is the amount of EPA and DHA combined. Everything else is just filler.
To see a decrease in fat and increase in muscle requires 2-3 grams of total EPA and DHA per day. If you’re using your regular store-bought brands, then that would mean taking in 10 capsules per day. This is a ridiculous amount for most people to take.
A better alternative would be to start looking at the amount of EPA and DHA per capsule. My favorite fish oil supplement is the Now Foods Ultra Omega 3 that has .75 grams of EPA and DHA per capsule. Therefore, instead of needing to take 10 pills to get to 3 grams, you would need to take just 3-4 per day, which costs less than 50 cents/day. These pills can be taken all at once or spread out throughout the day. In most stores, you should be able to find a fish oil with a combined EPA/DHA of at least .5 grams per capsule. At this amount you would need to take 4-6 capsules per day, spread out as you like (Such as Solgar Omega 3).
Top fish oil supplement brands like Nature’s Made, Solgar, and NOW brands all have strict policies and procedures regarding the manufacturing of fish oil, which undergo molecular distillation to remove mercury and other harmful contaminants.
Please keep in mind that all dietary supplements are overseen by the FDA, but they are not approved by the FDA (See BuiltLean Article: Dietary Supplements 101). In addition, several fish oil supplements came under fire in 2010 from a lawsuit6 claiming the presence of excessive levels of PCB’s (toxic chemical substance). The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) quickly denounced the merits of the lawsuit with a press release titled “CRN Says There Are No Safety Issues With Fish Oil.”7
In summary, fish oil offers a wide array of health benefits. Recent research also suggests that fish oil may help you lose more fat and build more muscle. If you do not regularly eat fish (especially deep water fatty fish), or you eat too much processed foods and oils, adding a fish oil supplement to your daily regimen deserves serious consideration.
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below!
- Marik PE, Varon J. Omega-3 dietary supplements and the risk of cardiovascular events: a systematic review. Clin Cardiol. 2009 Jul;32(7):365-72. ↩
- Noreen E, Sass M, Crowe, Pabon V, Brandauer J, Averill L. href=”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958879/?tool=pmcentrez” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”> Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults . J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010; 7: 31. ↩
- Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, Mittendorfer B. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women .Clin Sci (Lond). 2011 Sep;121(6):267-78. ↩
- Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79. ↩
- Ferrucci L, Cherubini A, Bandinelli S, Bartali B, Corsi A, Lauretani F, Martin A, Andres-Lacueva C, Senin U, Guralnik JM. Relationship of plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids to circulating inflammatory markers.J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Feb;91(2):439-46. ↩
- Allday, E. Lawsuit says fish oil supplements contain PCB . San Francisco Chronicle. 2010. ↩
- Shao, A. CRN SAYS THERE ARE NO SAFETY ISSUES WITH FISH OIL . Press Room. CRN. 2010. ↩