Why is everyone taking Fish Oil?
Published February 2, 2015
Written by Daniel "2-Time" Hershey, Past CF Misawa Headcoach
Fish Oil. Making an Informed Decision.
Disclaimer: Talk to your doctor before you begin to take any supplement. There are conditions and diseases where fish oil may and may not be appropriate.
A supplement should be used to supplement a good diet. If your diet is sub par, get that in line first. Your best bet is to eat real, quality food.
Hundreds of studies suggest that omega-3’s may provide some benefits to a wide range of diseases: cancer, asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, autoimmune diseases and etc. Additionally there are studies touting its ability to improve cognitive function, help positively alter body composition, increase lean mass and decrease fat mass, improve insulin sensitivity and various other performance markers— many good things.
Omega 3 vs. Omega 6
In general, omega-3’s have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body while omega-6’s have a pro-inflammatory effect. Both omega-3’s and omega-6’s are needed for optimal health, but they need to be in balance. Too much omega-6 in relation to omega-3 has a negative effect on health.
The “ideal” ratio is somewhat debated, but most agree somewhere between a 1:1- 3:1 omega 6 to 3 ratio. It is estimated that average western diet yields something more in line with 15:1 - 20:1 (just a little higher than what’s considered optimal).
A large contributor to this would be the fast food and processed food scene, as these oils are cheap and used heavily in cooking as well as in packaged foods.
Grams of Omega-6 per 100g Serving
- Sunflower oil: 65.7g
- Cottonseed oil: 51.5g
- Soybean oil: 51g
- Sesame oil: 41.3g
- Canola oil: 20.3g
You can look up the typical food you eat and see where you fall in terms of omega 6:3 ratio or see where your favorite foods fall. One thing to remember is that grass-fed or pastured raised meats and eggs have superior omega-3 profiles compared to their grain fed, feedlot raised counterparts (2-5 times as high). It is important what the food you eat, eats.
How much fish oil should I take?
There are many factors that need to go into the equation, but a little info on how much EPA+DHA is needed. EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA, docosahexaenoic acid, are long chain omega-3 fatty acids and this is what is what you are trying to consume. Most studies have found a dose between 1-5g/day (EPA+DHA) is appropriate, but it all depends on your current diet and current level of health.
If you’re eating cold-water fish or shellfish a couple times a week and have switched to grass-fed and pastured raised meats and eggs, an additional fish oil supplement might not be needed or maybe just a small dose.
Contrarily, if most of your meals come out of a box or from a drive through window or restaurant, a fish oil supplement might be in order; but you’d also be better off cutting out some of your omega-6’s and getting your nutrition in check.
So how much omega-3 oil do you need? It depends. Hopefully you see there is a continuum and where you fall depends on how and what you eat.
What to look for when buying a Fish Oil supplement?
Type of fatty acid
Look for omega-3s from marine sources; typically fish lower on the food chain (sardines, anchovies, etc.) as they have less contaminants/potential for less contaminants and would be considered a safer bet. It should be listed on the back of the bottle.
Amount/Concentration of EPA/DHA
Look for the amount of EPA and DHA per serving listed (not just “Fish Oil”); this is what you’re paying for. Some products will have 1000mg of fish oil and only 100mg of EPA and DHA per serving. While the cost of the supplement is low, the concentration of the good stuff is low. In regards to the amount per serving and amount per bottle, you are paying for the EPA and DHA, not total fish oil concentration.
Often the total fish oil concentration per serving is listed on the front of the bottle, as it is a higher number and more appealing. The EPA+DHA is often listed on the back at the bottom of the nutritional label. If you’re willing to do the math, see what the cost per gram of EPA+DHA is rather than the cost per serving if trying to find a cost advantage between two products.
Choose products that meet or exceed the international GOED standard for purity and are guaranteed by independent or 3rd-party testing. This will be listed on the label or on the website, as it costs the company money and they want you to be aware its happening.
Even if your product has been verified and hasn’t expired, it still can go rancid or the oil can oxidize. Neither of these things you want to happen, as the anti-inflammatory benefits can reverse and become pro-inflammatory.
You can crack open a pill or bottle and it should smell like the ocean, not rotten fish. If you choose a flavored fish oil, be aware that overly fragrant scents can mask the rancidity and generally isn’t necessary to cover up the fishy taste.
Remember, supplement a good diet.
Hopefully this gives you a place to start. Do your research. Take charge of your health and performance.