Fish oil in our time is quite a popular food supplement. Previously, it was used in liquid form, and this was a real punishment – not everyone likes the smell and taste of this product. With the release of a new form of release in the form of a gelatin capsule, the food supplement literally received a “second youth”. Fish oil is widely known for its unique properties, contains essential fatty acids and vitamins necessary for our health. At the same time, anti-advertising of fish oil with the statement of the uselessness and even harm of this product is increasingly appearing. Let’s see what is true, and what is fiction, based on the wrong interpretation of research on the properties of fish oil. We will also find out which product to give preference to and by what criteria to choose it.
Methods for obtaining fish oil
Fish oil is obtained from the liver of cod fish, the fat of seals and whales. The raw material is cleaned, sometimes crushed, heated to 50 C and slightly squeezed. The first slightly yellow fat obtained goes to the production of a well-known food additive. Then increase the temperature and get another kind of fat – yellow or red. Further heating makes it possible to obtain technical brown fat. The color of fish oil is determined by the presence of bile acids and other impurities. This is a production method for obtaining fish oil, which is not available to all people engaged in fishing. To obtain high-quality fish oil, it is very important to use fresh raw materials.
Before being packed in capsules or containers, the fat is separated, as a result, water, proteins and other impurities are separated, and filtered.
In some cases, fishermen get fish oil on their own-hermetically close the barrels with raw materials, and after a certain time (sometimes a month passes from the day of the catch), the fat flows out independently. It has a sharper smell and taste, loses its transparency and turns orange or red. In addition, fish oil obtained in an artisanal way has an acidic reaction and contains products of liver decomposition.
There are 4 types of fish oil – medical, food, veterinary and technical.
There are other methods of obtaining fish oil, which use electrical processing and various physical and chemical methods of isolation and purification. The main task is to get a clean product at the output and preserve useful substances as much as possible. It is worth noting that high-quality fish oil simply can not be cheap, since its proper processing, transportation and storage requires certain resources.
Composition of fish oil
In its pure form, without vitamin and other additives, fish oil contains fatty acids – oleic, palmitic, omega 3 and omega 6, as well as vitamins A and D. There is also a small amount of trace elements-iron, iodine, bromine, copper, magnesium, potassium, sodium, zinc and sulfur. Unfortunately, the environmental situation around the world leaves much to be desired, and therefore fish oil can contain heavy metal salts, mercury and ammonia.
It should be taken into account that the trace elements in fish oil are contained in such negligible amounts that they can practically not have a significant effect on the body. Therefore, we will analyze the components that make fish oil known as a valuable dietary supplement.
Oleic fatty acid is 70 % of the volume of fish oil. This compound belongs to the group of omega-9 fatty acids, which can be synthesized in the body, or come from food. Oleic acid participates in fat metabolism, stimulates the secretion of digestive enzymes, blocks the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine, accelerates the immune response and reduces inflammation, is part of the myelin sheaths of the nervous system and improves the transmission of nerve impulses. The ability of oleic fatty acid to lower blood pressure, increase the sensitivity of tissues to insulin and fight obesity has also been proven.
There is evidence that oleic acid can fight cancer, but they do not have a convincing evidence base. One study shows that an excess of oleic acid is just as dangerous as a deficiency. Both options increase the risk of death in the next ten years.
Oleic fatty acid has been actively studied and is being studied. It is important to adopt a critical approach to the research results. Note that the effects of olive oil, which contains a large amount of oleic acid, are most often considered. But in addition to it, olive oil has a number of components that can have one or another effect. It should also be taken into account that many studies have been conducted on laboratory animals, and you should not always expect similar changes in humans.
Palmitic fatty acid It is part of the components of cell membranes, and is also an important energy resource in the body. It is necessary to activate the synthesis of elastin, collagen and hyaluronic acid, thereby having a positive effect on the function and appearance of the skin. However, you should not get carried away with palmitic fatty acid, because it can lead to obesity, increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, start the process of self-destruction of cells and accumulate in the body, replacing the cells of the liver, pancreas and thymus. The mechanisms of the appearance of immunity of body tissues to insulin (insulin resistance) have also been proven. And this, as you know, is a sure step towards diabetes. Here is such a fly in the ointment there is in a barrel called “healthy fish oil”.
Of course, you can argue that there is not much palmitic fatty acid in fish oil – 8-20% (depending on the type of fish and the method of obtaining fat). That’s right, but do not forget that there are still certain risks, which means that you can not use fish oil for everyone without taking into account age and individual characteristics.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the real value of fish oil. If oleic and palmitic fatty acids can be synthesized in the body, then omega-3 are essential compounds that are part of food products – vegetable oils, fish and seafood.
In order to evaluate the benefits of fish oil, it is worth understanding what omega-3 fatty acids are and why they are so necessary for our body.
Omega-3 fatty acids:
- Alpha-linolenic – ALA (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid-EPA (EPA)
- Docosahexagen – DHA (DHA)
It is fair to note that EPA and DHA can be synthesized in the body from ALA, which can be obtained from vegetable oil. But it’s not that simple. The fact is that only 10-15% of ALA is used for the synthesis of these compounds in women, and even less in men. In addition, this transformation is inhibited by the presence of omega-6 fatty acid, which is found in abundance in almost all plant and some animal fats. Thus, fish oil is almost the only source of fatty acids that are vital to our body.
Interestingly, the fatty acids EPA and DHA are not synthesized in the fish body. Fish get them from algae, or by eating other fish. Therefore, for vegetarians, there is an alternative option for obtaining these valuable compounds – from seaweed, provided that their method of storage and preparation allows you to preserve everything useful.
Why are EPA and DHA considered important for our health?
- The gray matter of the brain is 3% DHA. A decent amount of this fatty acid is also found in the retina of the eye.
- EPA stimulates the production of serotonin (the good mood hormone), reduces the synthesis of cortisol (the stress hormone), and is therefore an excellent natural remedy for relieving nervous excitement, treating depression and insomnia.
- They are part of the cell membranes, increase skin regeneration, inhibit the destruction of collagen, improve the condition of nails and hair.
- Omega-3 fatty acids promote weight loss and faster recovery after exercise. Here it is necessary to make a reservation – weight loss is possible with sufficient physical activity and without food abuse.
- Antioxidants-reduce the amount of free radicals in the body, thereby eliminating the effects of stress.
- They reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood and inhibit the adhesion of lipoproteins to the vascular wall.
- They are anti-inflammatory fatty acids, reduce the intensity of allergic reactions, and speed up the recovery time.
- They improve the condition of the joints, slow down the processes of destruction of cartilage tissue.
- Strengthen the immune system, which is the prevention of colds. EPA and DHA are part of the cell membranes of the immune system, and are also the basis of signaling substances (eicosanoids) that stimulate the movement of white blood cells to the focus of inflammation and cause a protective increase in body temperature.
- Accelerate the healing of wounds, including postoperative ones.
- Reduce the viscosity of the blood.
Omega-6 fatty acids – as well as omega-3 are essential, but unlike ALA, EPA and DHA, there are enough options for obtaining them with food. To do this, you can choose any vegetable oil, even the most common sunflower oil, which we eat almost every day.
Omega-6 supports the level of cholesterol in the blood, is part of the cell membranes, improves the regeneration of the skin and internal organs. An important condition is the correct ratio with omega-3. Ideally, it should be:
Omega-6 : omega-3 = 4 : 1
The modern style of nutrition assumes a different ratio-30 : 1, which entails a lot of negative consequences. Omega-6 in large quantities harms the body, increases inflammatory reactions, makes the blood thicker and can cause cancer. Fortunately, fish oil contains less omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. In this regard, fish oil is almost an ideal product.
Vitamin D It has a number of useful effects-regulates the exchange of calcium and phosphorus, prevents cell death, prolonging their life, has an immunomodulatory effect, increases the synthesis of insulin and the sensitivity of tissues to it, stimulates protein synthesis, has an antidepressant effect and helps to get rid of extra pounds.
In the last century, fish oil was given to all children without exception for the prevention of rickets. Now this disease has lost its relevance, the vast majority of modern pediatricians have never seen children with rickets at the reception. But in terms of the effect on the growth of bone tissue, protein synthesis, and the formation of immunity, vitamin D is really indispensable, especially in childhood.
Some vitamin D is found in other animal products, but most of it is found in fish and cod liver. That is, we can say that fish oil is a natural storehouse of this useful vitamin.
Vitamin A or retinol – the most important vitamin for skin health. It restores and rejuvenates skin cells, modulates the immune system, fights free radicals, and inhibits the development of tumor processes. In addition, vitamin A is essential for vision. Thanks to it, we can distinguish colors and see in the dark and twilight.
Useful properties of fish oil
So, we have analyzed every component of natural fish oil. Now let’s combine them and see what effects we get in the output.
There is no doubt that fish oil is a useful product, but recently it has become fashionable to criticize it and debunk established stereotypes. In order to understand where the truth is and where the fiction is, you should refer to the data from clinical studies, which we will do.
Fish oil as a prevention of cardiovascular diseases
REDUCE-IT (Reduction of Cardiovascular Events Outcomes — reduction of undesirable cardiovascular events)-the most “fresh” American study of omega — 3 fatty acid (or rather one of its types-eicosopentaenoic acid) was started in 2011 and completed in 2018. For almost 5 years, we studied a group of people (8,179 people) who consistently had high blood cholesterol and other risks of cardiovascular disasters. All the people received statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs). The first group was additionally prescribed EPA, and the second – placebo. As a result, the risk of heart attack, stroke and other vascular disasters was reduced by 25% in people who received statins + EPA.
We can say that this is the first study that has convincingly proved the benefits of fish oil for people with cardiovascular risks.
However, the scientific medical society is in no hurry to interpret the result unambiguously. There is information that the mineral oil that was in the placebo capsules reduces the effectiveness of statins, and perhaps for this reason, the patients of the second group showed the worst result.
Prior to REDUCE-IT, there were several other similar studies that examined patients with high cholesterol who were taking statins. The results were quite contradictory and are interpreted by doctors, scientists and manufacturers of dietary supplements in different ways.
First, lowering cholesterol levels does not mean high-quality prevention of vascular and heart diseases. Recently, the view on the causes of atherosclerosis has changed somewhat. The root cause is damage to the vessel, and not the level of “bad” or “good” cholesterol. Another thing is that EPA and DHA reduce the adhesion, that is, the adhesion of cholesterol to the vascular wall. But not all studies have studied these properties.
Secondly, studies conducted in regions with historically high consumption of fish and seafood cannot show the real picture. Residents of these regions initially receive a sufficient amount of omega-3 and the addition of this fatty acid is unlikely to significantly affect health.
Fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease – a large-scale review of the prevention of cardiovascular diseases with omega-3 fatty acids was completed in 2018 in England. This study was conducted by an independent reputable company – the Cochrane Collaboration, which leveled the benefits of fish oil for the heart and blood vessels. Many sources have taken up and developed this idea, thus destroying popular stereotypes. It is a pity that few people try to understand the essence of the study. Maybe everything is not so clear?
For the large-scale analysis, 79 studies of healthy and sick people from America, Europe, Asia and Australia were conducted. A total of 112 thousand people. According to the method of nutrition, they were divided into 4 groups:
- People taking omega-3 supplements
- People who eat omega-3 foods
- People with a regular diet
- People taking a placebo
The studied patients were aged 50-80 years, a quarter of them were smokers, more than half had chronic diseases (diabetes, hypertension, etc.) and were treated with drugs that have side effects. You haven’t figured out what the catch is yet?
The aim of the analysis was to determine the effect of omega-3 on various risks – mortality, stroke, coronary heart disease, heart attacks and arrhythmias.
After 6 years, the results were announced: Omega-3 fatty acids have almost no effect on heart health. Additional fortification of food with walnuts and margarine (!) gives a low result.
This could be the end of the review of omega-3 studies – and to sum up the fact that the myth about the benefits of fish oil burst like a soap bubble (which is exactly what the journalists did, without going into the details of the study). But let’s still analyze the information received.
- First, and most importantly, omega-3 is a dietary supplement, that is, a dietary supplement. Not a cure! In medicine, there is a whole arsenal of tools for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Omega-3 fatty acids should be mandatory in the human diet, but they should not treat existing diseases (and as we see in the study, people with serious diseases participated). You don’t expect proteins to cure you of gastritis, for example. But nevertheless, you should take them every day to maintain the health of the body.
- In this study, residents of developed countries participated, where there are no problems with access to quality products or dietary supplements. That is, people did not initially experience an acute omega-3 deficiency.
- Walnuts and margarine were offered as a supplement to the food. What was dictated by this choice – it is difficult to say, because margarine is clearly not the product of choice for obtaining omega-3. In addition, these products do not contain EPA and DHA.
- The study did not take into account the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.
- Drugs that people have taken have a number of side effects, including can lead to cardiovascular diseases.
- Only one component of fish oil was involved in the study. Therefore, it is not very correct to talk about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a food additive only on the basis of the action of one component.
There are still a number of points in this analysis that can be interpreted in two ways. What conclusions can be drawn? Whether omega-3 prevention of diseases of the heart and blood vessels?
The fact is that cardiovascular pathology has many causes and risk factors. While studying one, you should not lose sight of the others. This study proved the lack of effectiveness of prevention of cardiovascular diseases in people with pre-existing diagnoses or risk factors. At the same time, the recommendation of the American Heart Association has not changed – patients with cardiovascular disease are still prescribed a diet with omega-3 or dietary supplements with it.
Fish oil and brain
As we have already said, DHA is one of the structural elements of the gray matter of the brain. Consequently, this important organ suffers from a lack of omega-3 fatty acids. This manifests itself in a lack of attention, problems with remembering, impaired thinking and behavior. Studies have shown a link between a lack of EPA and DHA in the diet and the presence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.
At the same time, some information sources claim that fish oil is useless for the brain. Let’s deal with these conflicting data.
Here everything is exactly as with the question of the effect of fish oil on the cardiovascular system. In people with an existing disease – Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other cognitive disorders, fish oil, or rather omega-3, did not bring an effect, that is, did not treat these diseases. But by and large, we do not expect that people with such serious disorders of not only the function, but also the structure of the brain will help a dietary supplement, right?
On the other hand, there is strong evidence that DHA fights depression and improves concentration and memory in children and adolescents while taking fish oil.
In any case, the fact that the brain is the main consumer of docosahexagen fatty acid remains indisputable. On average, it consumes 20 mg of this substance per day.
If you carefully analyze the results of studies that supposedly refute the need to take omega-3s to improve brain function, you can see that they oppose fish oil as a dietary supplement, but do not exclude the role of fish and seafood. Such are the double standards. Not everyone has the opportunity to eat right, and fish oil is an alternative to getting healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
There is an opinion that for some unknown reason, DHA and EPA in fish oil are not absorbed in the body. If fish oil is obtained in compliance with all technical nuances and the conditions of its transportation and storage are not violated – the digestibility of fatty acids will be exactly the same as when digesting fish or seafood.
The benefits of fish oil for vision
Omega-3 and vitamin A are components of the retina. It would seem that this fact alone should dispel all doubts about the benefits of fish oil for eye health. But as if not so! There are research data that can easily prove the opposite. Let’s analyze one of them.
AREDS – a study of the effect of diet on age-related changes in the eyes, which was conducted in 2006-2012. For the study, 5800 elderly patients with the first stage of retinal destruction or with the risk of such changes were selected. At the first stage, these people received antioxidants and minerals, at the second-omega-3 fatty acids. The result did not meet expectations – this diet did not protect neurons and blood vessels from aging and degradation, which gave grounds to declare the failure of fish oil for the prevention and treatment of age-related eye changes. This study was presented to the layman.
But don’t jump to conclusions. The fact is that age-related retinal dystrophy is the death of tissues due to the irreversible destruction of the blood vessels that feed the retina. Fish oil is not ” living water”, and not even a medicine. Fatty acids and vitamins enter the retina through the blood vessels, and when the blood supply is disrupted, the supply of these components is also disrupted. Fish oil has nothing to do with it, and we can’t expect the impossible from it.
Fish oil for weight loss
It’s no secret that people with excess weight dream of finding a magic pill that will quickly and safely help get rid of the hated pounds. Perhaps this is why there are so many claims about the effectiveness of fish oil for weight loss. I must say that many of them have no basis in fact. Yes, there are quite a lot of large-scale and not very large-scale studies that support the components of fish oil. At the same time, a slight weight loss was demonstrated– 0,7-1-1,5 kg for quite long periods of time. In addition, most of the studies and observations involved animals, which means that these results cannot be extrapolated to humans.
Thus, we have analyzed the most controversial effects of fish oil and concluded that it is good for the heart, brain, blood vessels and eyes. To avoid disappointment, you need to understand that fish oil is a food supplement for those who can not get EPA and DHA from other sources, and not a universal cure for all ills.
How to choose the” right ” fish oil
So, we have decided that EPA and DHA are necessary for maintaining and maintaining the health of the body. And if it is not possible to regularly eat fish of fatty varieties or seaweed, then the only source of valuable fatty acids will be fish oil. The production of fish oil is a huge industry and it is not so easy to deal with the abundance of cans and packages. Here are some practical tips for choosing the “right” fish oil:
- The best producers of fish oil are countries that specialize in fishing – Norway, Finland, Ireland, North America (Alaska) and Russia.
- The best raw material is the carcass of oceanic fish. This product is labeled Fish oil, which means “fish oil”. Fish oil will contain less harmful impurities, but also less vitamins. This should not confuse you, because vitamins can be obtained from other sources. The Cod liver oil label indicates that this product is derived from the liver of cod and other fish.
- The packaging must indicate the origin of the raw material and the type of fish from which the fish oil is obtained. If the manufacturer hides this data – then this is not your product.
It is better to give preference to fish oil obtained from wild fish. The content of omega-3 in farmed (artificially grown) fish is 30-50% lower.
- The most important parameter is the amount of valuable fatty acids DHA and EPA. Therefore, the higher it is – the better.
- Pay attention to the type of fish oil. As we remember, it comes in four types. We need “medical” fish oil.
- The shelf life of a quality product should be no more than 2 years.
- It is advisable to choose gelatin capsules not from animal gelatin (it is cheaper), but from fish gelatin (it is more useful).
- It is very desirable to taste the product. It should not be rancid and have a rotten smell. This most likely indicates non-compliance with the technology.
Despite the fact that the effectiveness of fish oil, and more specifically omega-3 in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases has not been confirmed, WHO has approved and approved the so-called Mediterranean diet. It involves taking fatty varieties of fish three times a week or daily intake of fish oil 2-4 g per day.
Fish oil, like any dietary supplement, has its own contraindications and side effects:
- Allergic reactions. If you are allergic to fish, then it is highly likely that fish oil can cause a similar side effect.
- If you are taking blood thinning medications (such as aspirin), then fish oil is contraindicated.
- You can not take fish oil and hypotonic (people with low blood pressure).
- Do not recommend this product during the exacerbation of diseases of the digestive tract – gastritis, stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers.
- Fish oil is undesirable to take with cholelithiasis. The fatty product stimulates the release of bile and can provoke the release of stones.
- Before taking fish oil, it is advisable to consult a doctor. It will help you choose an adequate dose. An excess of vitamins A and D is just as undesirable as a deficiency.
Choose the right fish oil and be healthy!