Approximately half of all Americans take nutritional supplements every year. One of the most common is fish oil. Fish oil supplements make $1.2 billion in sales every year.
Fish oil manufacturers say that the supplements can reduce your risk of heart disease, improve immunity, and increase athletic performance. But what does the science say?
The purpose of this article is to critically evaluate research on the effects of fish oil supplements on key health indicators in your body, particularly triglycerides, cholesterol, and testosterone.
Fish oil supplements contain oils derived from the skin and liver of fish that are high in fat, such as mackerel, tuna, sardines, and salmon. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is a polyunsaturated fat that helps protect against heart disease and possibly other health conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acids come in three varieties. The first Omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid which is found in vegetable oils like soybean, canola, and walnut. The other two omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are only found in fatty fish and fish-derived supplements.
Though humans need Omega-3 fatty acids, the body can’t produce them. People must get them through diet or supplements. It is unfortunate that most Americans do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diets.
Many people looking to improve their heart health take fish oil supplements to get their recommended daily value of omega-3 fatty acids.
The real effects of fish oil supplements on your health are not really known. Do they lower risk of cardiovascular diseases by reducing biomarkers such as triglycerides and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol?
Do they work by reducing inflammation by lowering C-Reactive protein (CRP) levels? Can they maximize strength by boosting your testosterone? We have compiled a list of the highest-quality research studies and our key takeaways and recommendations from those studies.
The most effective way to gauge the impact of fish oil supplements on your health is to monitor your internal biochemistry regularly.
Fish oil’s impact on measures of heart health.
People take fish oil for the set of special omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA.
The letters in the text refer to the chemical names for two different types of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids are important for helping to control inflammatory reactions, preventing blood clotting, and building healthy cells.
Marketing claims around fish oil include:
- Anti-inflammatory benefits
- Brain building effects
- Help for dry eyes
- Helps to prevent AMD (the most common cause of blindness)
- Helps people with fatty liver
- Helps reduce pain in rheumatoid arthritis
- Reduces triglycerides
- Prevents heart attacks
- Prevents strokes
- Prevents the onset of mental disorders in those at risk
- Prevents Alzheimer’s
There is some truth to the supposed benefits of fish oil, though they may be exaggerated.
Omega-3 fats are a type of nutrient that our body needs but cannot produce on its own. We need to consume these nutrients through food or drink in order to be healthy.
If we don’t consume enough nutrient-rich foods, we will develop nutrient deficiencies and become malnourished. If we do not have enough nutrients, or if we have poor nutrition, our health can suffer in many ways.
If we lack omega-3 fatty acids, we can develop many medical problems. However, if we suddenly start getting plenty of them, then that one change can reverse many medical problems.
Not all health claims made by fish oil supplement companies are false. Could one tiny pill really make such a big difference?
Fat molecules in the blood that are called triglycerides store energy for later use. Having high levels of triglycerides in your blood is linked to a greater chance of developing heart problems.
Do fish oil supplements have the potential to lower your levels and protect your heart?
There is much evidence to suggest that daily fish oil supplements can improve your heart health.
Researchers looked at 68 studies involving more than 2,800 subjects to see how effective fish oil is in reducing triglyceride levels. They made sure that each study lasted for at least two weeks, and that it was either a parallel or crossover study. The average duration of the studies was nine weeks, with an average of 41 subjects.
The researchers found that people who took fish oil every day had 25% lower triglyceride levels than people who didn’t. Subjects who had high levels of triglycerides to start off with experienced a 34% reduction after taking fish oil supplements every day.
Despite being unsure about how fish oil supplements work, researchers found that they have a significant effect on triglyceride levels, especially in patients with elevated triglyceride levels.
The results of the study showed that participants who took a higher dosage of supplements saw greater reductions in their levels of triglycerides.
Smaller research studies have shown that consuming fish oil supplements can help to optimize triglyceride levels in young, healthy individuals.
A 2013 study found that 3 grams of fish oil per day decreased triglyceride levels by 38% on average in 10 healthy young men over 13 weeks.
Fish oil supplements are useful for people who are trying to lower their elevated levels of triglycerides.
Fish oil supplements help to lower triglyceride levels, especially for those who already have high levels.
Good HDL levels are associated with better cardiovascular health.
Cholesterol is a type of fat molecule that is essential for building cell membranes and hormones. Lipoproteins are molecules that transport cholesterol and come in two varieties: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
The purpose of these cholesterol “scavengers” is to collect unused cholesterol and bring it to the liver to be recycled and destroyed. They do this to stop the plaque from building up in arteries and to lower the risk of diseases related to the heart and blood vessels.
Does taking fish oil supplements also benefit your heart by elevating your HDL?
The research is mixed. An analysis of 47 research studies on the effects of fish oil supplementation on people with unhealthy levels of HDL cholesterol found that, on average, fish oil only slightly increases HDL cholesterol.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that fish oil supplementation does not have a clinically significant effect on HDL cholesterol levels.
Some individual research studies suggest that consuming fish oil supplements may increase HDL levels by a small but clinically significant degree.
In a 2007 intervention study that lasted 12 weeks, researchers looked at how daily fish oil consumption and exercise affected 28 men and 53 women. All of the subjects were overweight and had high blood pressure, cholesterol, or triglycerides. However, none had any cardiovascular-related diseases such as diabetes.
Researchers divided them into four groups.
- The first group of 17 consumed 6 grams of fish oil weight per day.
- The second group of 16 people consumed the same amount of fish oil as the first group, but they also walked 45 minutes three days out of the week.
- The third group took 6 grams of sunflower oil per day.
- The fourth group took the same dose of sunflower oil and walked 45 minutes three days/ week.
HDL cholesterol levels increased by 9.70% and 11.60% in the fish oil and fish oil plus exercise groups, respectively, after the 12-week intervention.
The two sunflower oil supplement groups experienced very small changes in HDL levels. The researchers found that taking FO supplements and exercising regularly both help to reduce body fat and improve cardiovascular and metabolic health.
Research suggests that fish oil supplements have a minimal impact on increasing levels of heart-healthy HDL cholesterol.
The reason you should NOT take MOST fish oil supplements.
Most fish oil supplements are actually bad for you. Multiple studies have found that fish oil supplements are contaminated with toxins.
We need to keep in mind that fish oil is a processed food product.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are not as potent as those found in oily fish. The impact of processing on the omega-3 family of fats is what this is about.
Numerous toxins develop during fish oil processing.
The toxins don’t come from the environment and aren’t in fish. After processing, the environmental pollutants present in fish oil are much greater than any other quantity, making these toxins a more serious threat to your health.
If fish oil supplements contained fish oil that was closer to its natural form, it is more likely that it could be effective in treating various medical conditions.
Most fish oil supplements do not contain fish oil in the form that nature made it, which is why they often fail to show benefits and may even cause harm.
Fish oil undergoes a chemical change during processing. Extracting oil from fish damages the delicate omega-3 fatty acids contained within the fish.
The omega-3 fatty acids are chemically fragile, making them difficult to manufacture. Only a few companies appear to make the effort to overcome these technical challenges.
The others are selling fish oil supplements that could be bad for your health instead of good.
The main challenge that fish oil manufacturers face is oxidation of the oil. The reason fish oil supplementation has not lived up to expectations is due to oxidation. Oxidation transforms the beneficial omega-3 into toxins. This poses two problems to you, the consumer.
First, oxidation destroys the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Not all of them, but a lot of them. During the process that most manufacturers use to refine their fish oil, there is a loss of omega-3.
Second, oxidation creates toxins. The chemicals in fish are changed by oxidation, creating new chemicals that would not exist without processing.
When fish oil oxidizes, it creates many new compounds that are toxic.
Since fish oil supplements generally contain high levels of toxic breakdown products, it is wise to be aware of what to look for in order to avoid potential health risks. These products can damage cells, shorten telomeres, and mutate DNA.
The one thing you need to see on any fish oil supplement label before buying it!
You should look for a company that specifically mentions controlling for oxidation in their marketing. The language on the supplement below says “non-oxidized” meaning they use supercritical extraction with carbon dioxide to get the oil out of the plant.
Carbon dioxide is pumped into the processing environment to replace the oxygen that is typically present in the air. You can remove oxygen to control oxygenation reactions.
While this language is a good indicator, it is not a foolproof method. The fact that the supplement industry is largely unregulated means that companies don’t have to control for oxidation in their products.
Spirulina & Omega 3 Fatty Acids
There are natural sources to obtain omega 3 healthy fats.
Organic spirulina – nature’s most complete nutrient source, containing over 60% complete vegetarian protein, an abundance of chlorophyll and essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and nucleic acids, as well as nature’s highest source of a new class of immune enhancers, a photosynthetic pigment called phyco-can. An all-natural ‘multivitamin’ in and of itself.
Spirulina is nature’s richest and most complete source of total organic nutrition
- Can help increase endurance and stamina
- Rich source of carotenoids
- May support healthy immune system and cardiovascular function
- May reduce cravings and appetite
Packed with vegetarian protein, marine omega fatty acids, chlorophyll, essential amino acids, antioxidants, and vitamins, Spirulina is nature’s ultimate wholefood multi-vitamin. This energizing superfood is easy to digest and supports optimal health to multiple body systems.
Power Shake is one of Purium’s most popular products, offering several energizing, gluten-free superfoods including organic Spirulina, organic wheatgrass, and organic buckwheat in one nutritional shake.
Functioning as a diverse powerhouse of super greens and healthy fats, the Power Shake helps create energy and hormonal balance inside the body.
Power Shake can help support healthy cholesterol, blood glucose levels, digestion and weight loss. It is available in Original (unflavored) and Apple-Berry flavor.
Not all omega-3 is created equal. There are two different types of omega-3: a common one and a very special one. Omega 3 fatty acids come in different lengths.
Many plant and animal foods contain a type of omega-3 that is shorter, but the omega-3 found in fish oil is unusually long. We need both the shorter 18 carbon form and the longer 20 carbon form.
If your metabolism is healthy, you can turn any 18 carbon omega-3 fatty acid into a 20 plus carbon omega-3 fatty acid, thus in a sense making your own fish oil. If your metabolism is not healthy, the enzymes that help to break down omega-3 fats are not functional.
READ MORE: Several Health Benefits Of Spirulina