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Fish oil has been touted for years as a miracle cure for a variety of ailments, apparently mitigating everything from Alzheimer’s to glaucoma. However, it’s important to fully understand why fish oil is important for your diet before buying that huge bottle of fish oil supplements. In this article, you’ll find facts about fish oil, enabling you to be better educated on its benefits.
Explanation of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are the main healthy component of fish oil, and because omega-3s are not produced naturally in the body, they are an important part of a healthy diet. There are two types of fatty acids in the omega-3s found in fish oils: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Both of these acids reduce triglycerides, high amounts of which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Additionally, EPA reduces inflammation in the body and brain, and DHA is essential in the creation and maintenance of fluid cell membranes.
New research on omega-3s has shown that they have increased in importance with the evolution of the typical Western diet. The average person in the West consumes a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation and can increase the likelihood of diseases like heart disease. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in vegetable oils and in additives in processed foods, and omega-3s counterbalance the effects of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s should be consumed in the same amount as omega-6s, but the average Western diet has a 10 to 1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s.
Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Consuming fish or fish oil supplements is the easiest ways of adding omega-3s to your diet. Fish oil supplements can be made from mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, cod liver, whale blubber, and seal blubber, all of which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. 3.5 ounces of fish will provide you with about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids, which is a single serving. Though fish oil supplements are a good way to add omega-3s to your diet, fish oil from fresh fish is less processed and more nutritious, and, if possible, is a better option.
If you’re looking to increase your intake of omega-3s but don’t eat fish or want to take fish oil supplements, there are many plants, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and coconut oil that can provide you with plant-based omega-3s.
Though the benefits of fish oil supplements have become among Americans only recently, fish oil has been consumed around the world for centuries. In the 1920s, a Canadian anthropologist studied various Inuit communities in Greenland. Even though the Inuit rarely consumed fruits or vegetables, and their main food staple was fat and fish, there were few instances of cardiovascular issues in their communities. Many years later, while taking blood samples, it was discovered that the Inuit had very thin blood that took up to 50 minutes to clot. The average in most Western communities is 3 – 5 minutes, for comparison.
In 2013 alone, Americans spent $1.2 billion on fish oil supplements. Though fish oil has gained fame as a miracle supplement, it is also surrounded by myths and misunderstandings of its health benefits. Here’s an explanation of all the scientifically proven health benefits of fish oil. Fish oil can:
1. Reduce Triglycerides
High levels of triglycerides can lead to coronary artery disease, heart disease and stroke. By reducing the amount of triglycerides in your blood, you are also reducing your risk for arrhythmia, heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.
2. Improve Brain Health
A study in the American Academy of Neurology medical journal found that people with higher levels of omega-3 in their blood also have larger brain volumes, which preserves brain age and keeps the brain younger for a longer period of time. Shrinking brain volume is a sign of aging and can also be a sign of age-related cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In those suffering from Alzheimer’s, the hippocampus, which is crucial to memory, begins to degenerate even before symptoms appear. Study participants who had higher levels of omega-3s in their blood were also found to have a larger hippocampus and therefore less decline in their memory and cognitive health. With new understanding of how to preserve brain volume, we can hopefully reduce incidences of dementia by keeping our brains younger and healthier for longer.
3. Improve Blood Flow
A balance between omega-3s and omega-6s is also important for keeping blood thin enough and healthy. Omega-3s are natural anticoagulants, meaning they thin blood. Thinner blood is important for reducing the risk of stroke.
4. Reduce Inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce inflammation in your body. On average, people in the West consume a high amount of omega-6s, creating inflammation throughout the body. Omega-3s balance this out, and reducing inflammation reduces pain in the body. Many placebo controlled studies conclude that fish oil benefits people with chronic inflammatory diseases, and reduces their use of anti-inflammatory medicines.
How Much Should I Take?
Before starting any new supplement, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Though there are minimal side-effects to taking fish oil, and indeed many doctors are writing prescriptions for it, consult your physician before adding fish oil to your diet, in case of interactions with other medications or possible allergies.
When deciding which brand of fish oil to buy, it’s important to not only look at quality and ingredients, but also dosage. Many fish oil supplement contain vitamin E to prevent them from spoiling, and some manufacturers may add other vitamins or supplements that could be beneficial to your health. While it is important to not take too much fish oil, it is also important to get a full dose, which is sometimes more than one tablet. When deciding how much fish oil to take you don’t want to overdose.
Think of taking fish oil as avoiding a deficiency, not of taking medicine to cure a problem. The proper dose of fish oil for supplemental use is 1 – 4 grams a day. What’s also important is to look at the ratio of fatty acids (EPA and DHA) that are present within the fish oil. You want an approximate ratio of 2.04 grams of EPA to 1.4 grams of DHA per day. If you’ve been prescribed fish oil by your doctor or want to know more about the proper dosage for the problem you’re trying to treat, be sure to talk to your doctor and follow their instructions.
If you do overdose on fish oil (that’s over 20 grams a day), you’re likely to see symptoms such as nosebleeds, nausea, headaches, short-term memory loss, high blood sugar and a weakened immune system. Even with natural supplements, it’s important to not overdose as too much of anything will have side effects. If you are taking fish oil, take it after you’ve eaten, and not on an empty stomach. If you need to take more than one tablet per day to get the proper dosage, space them out throughout the day or take one after each meal.
Omega 3s are necessary for a complete and healthy diet, but it’s important to look at them in comparison with your consumption of omega-6s. The proper ratio for omega-6s to omega-3s is 1:1, though 2:1 is also acceptable. Most Westerners consume too much omega-6 in their diets and not much omega-3, and the average ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in a Western diet is between 10:1 and 25:1. Omega-3s are important for overall health and finding the correct ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is imperative.
Fish oil has been consumed by certain cultures throughout much of history, but has only recently become popular in the West. Among cultures consuming fish oil, a lower level of heart disease has been noticed, leading to the conclusion that fish oil is beneficial. In modern times, studies have found that fish oil is not only beneficial to your heart health and reducing risk of heart attacks, but it’s also beneficial for keeping your brain young and reducing the risk for age-related cognitive decline.
The popularity of fish oil has also brought on the environmental concern of overfishing, leading many advocates to search for their omega-3 supplements from plant sources or algae sources that are lab grown and have less effect on the environment. Many of the fatty fishes used in the production of fish oil are becoming threatened by overfishing in the wild.
The list of health benefits from fish oil is extensive. What’s important to understand when deciding to take fish oil is that the omega-3s found in fish oil help to balance the ratio of consumption of omega-6s to omega-3s. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 1:1 or 2:1. The modern westernized diet is often full of omega-6s, but lacking omega-3s, leading to an imbalance in the body. Omega-3s are known to reduce inflammation in the body when consumed because you’re bringing this ratio back into alignment.
By reducing inflammation in the body, there are dozens of other added benefits to supplementing your diet with fish oil. As with taking any other supplement, it’s important to consult with your doctor before taking fish oil and to discuss with him what benefit you’re looking for from supplementing your diet with fish oil. It is also important to regulate your intake, and take the supplements for the right reasons.