By Aaron Gilbert
What is fish oil? Fish oil is, well, oil from fish.
It’s rich in two groups of omega-3 fatty acids known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA, along with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in things like flax and walnuts, fall under the subheading of omega-3 fatty acids.
EPA and DHA are often cited as being the beneficial components of fish oil. EPA and DHA originate in algae, which is the base of the food chain for fish. Fish consume algae and thus concentrate high amounts of the beneficial fats.
Why is fish oil so important?
Omega-3’s are very important to cardiovascular function, nervous system function and brain development, and immunity health. Research shows low DHA consumption (and blood levels) is associated with memory loss, difficulty concentrating, Alzheimer’s disease and mood problems.
Essential fats play an integral role in promoting cell health. Human cells have a fatty membrane (lipid bilayer) that is semi-permeable. It regulates what gets into the cell and what goes out of it. The fluidity of cell membranes depends on the fatty acid composition of the diet.
Finally, DHA and EPA can increase metabolism by increasing levels of enzymes that boost calorie-burning ability.
Omega-3 to omega-6 ratio
It’s easy for us to get omega-6 fatty acids. These are found in plant oils and factory-raised animals, which are fed a lot of corn and soy.
But it’s hard for people in western countries to get omega-3 fats from dietary sources. We eat a lot more processed foods and a lot less wild game and plants than our ancestors did. And we don’t usually eat things like snails and insects, which are also high in omega-3, like are common in diets elsewhere in the world. We rely heavily now on omega-6 vegetable oils.
What you should know
We can’t make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in our bodies, so we need to get them from our diets.
- Aim for 3-9 daily grams of total fish oil (about 1-3 grams of EPA + DHA) per day from a supplement company that doesn’t contribute directly to the depletion of fish (e.g., they use primarily fish discards).
- Look for small-fish-based formulations (e.g. herring, mackerel). Small fish are lower on the food chain and less likely to accumulate environmental toxins. Or choose krill oil or algae oil.
- Avoid cod liver oil.
- Avoid trans fats; they can interfere with EPA & DHA in the body.
- Limit consumption of corn, cottonseed and sunflower oil (omega-6-rich vegetable oils), which negatively alter your fatty acid ratio.
Aaron Gilbert, CSCS, is founder/owner of Longevity Athletics.
This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.