Why Your Fish Oil Supplements Aren’t Cutting It

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Omega-3 Supplements or Fish: What’s the Best You might not like seafood. That “fishy” flavor can be a little less appealing to some, or perhaps it’s not even the taste that puts you off, but the smell. But you likely know of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, so you take supplements instead of suffering through a salmon filet. This may not be the best option for your overall health…

Why You Should Learn to Eat More Fish

If you’ve been avoiding fish for years because of a bad experience, a childhood memory, or the perception that it tastes or smells bad, I’d recommend giving it another try. Your taste buds change with age, and it might not be as bad as you think anymore. Furthermore, if you make a conscious effort to include more fish in your diet, you might simply adapt to the flavor and end up liking it. This takes time, but conditioning your taste buds to like certain things can work.

Fish is extremely healthy. It’s an easy-to-digest form of lean protein that can promote muscle strength, fat loss, improved body composition, and cardiovascular health, and it can provide you with a number of vitamins and minerals—most importantly, omega-3 fatty acids. Including fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, or some form of white fish in your diet every week can really help to improve your health. I’d even go as far as to say eating fish at least twice per week is almost imperative to a healthy diet.

You’ve surely heard of omega-3 fatty acids before; they are DHA, EPA, and ALA. ALA comes largely from plant sources and is converted into EPA and DHA inside the body. Having said that, the process is inefficient, and you typically end up losing a lot of its value, so your body reaps more of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids when consumed in EPA and DHA forms. DHA and EPA are specific to fatty fish and are also the most active and beneficial omega-3s to your health. Your brain and body need them, and the only place you can get an adequate supply is by eating fish.

Studies have linked EPA and DHA with improved cognition, lowered blood pressure, a strengthened immune system, and positive effects on the development of your nervous and cardiovascular systems.

All of these benefits have made fish oil supplements a top seller. But there are questions that still remain about the effectiveness of supplements compared to the real thing.

Are Supplements Sufficient or Is the Real Thing Better?

Yes, fish oil supplements feature EPA and DHA. The brand I use, for example, offers 750 milligrams (mg) of EPA and 500 mg of DHA per teaspoon. I take three teaspoons per day. However, the overall effectiveness of omega-3 supplementation as the only source of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet has been called into question.

The first question revolves around dosages. Some studies have shown that in order to experience therapeutic benefits, dosages tend to be in the two-gram range for EPA and 1.5 grams for DHA per day, which many supplements don’t offer in their recommended serving. Therefore, it’s important you read the labels to see how much omega-3s you’re getting per serving.

But there’s much more…

A common concern with nutritional supplements is that they aren’t always proven to work when they’ve been separated from the other naturally occurring vitamins and minerals they’re combined with in food. So unless you have a diagnosed deficiency of a vitamin or mineral, supplements might not be of much help—and that includes omega-3 fish oil supplements.

One study, for example, looked at the underlying molecular mechanisms that are at play when you consume fish oil. They found that something called a “SLO1 potassium channel” is a very important component in the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids. “These channels act like specific receptors for DHA and are opened by the binding of omega-3 fatty acids,” describes one of the researchers.

When they are consumed as part of a whole fish, blood vessels tend to expand and lead to a drop in blood pressure. However, this is only the case if DHA is consumed through eating fish. DHA from fish oil supplements didn’t have the same effect, especially if it came from a DHA variant (something that’s used in many supplements).

It seems that in many cases, the benefits and nutrition work in unison with each other. Extracting specific nutrients for separate consumption might not provide the same effects as when it’s consumed as part of a whole. In other words, the various nutrients work most effectively when consumed together, offering the most benefits.

What Can You Do to Get Your Daily Dose of Omega-3?

As I mentioned earlier, I recommend trying to include fish in your diet. Try adding it once a week for the next month and see how it goes. Yes, you can get omega-3 from plant sources, but it’s just not as effective.

The good thing is that if you are taking fish oil supplements and can afford them, they aren’t harmful, so they can be an acceptable (though not most effective) way to get your daily recommended intake of omega-3s. I’m still taking mine and have noticed benefits, especially when it comes to my skin’s health. Just don’t assume that the supplements will be able to give you the same benefits as including fish in your daily diet.

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Sources for Today’s Article:
Friedrich Schiller University Jena, “Why fish is so good for you,” ScienceDaily web site, March 5, 2013; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130305080655.htm, last accessed February 20, 2015.
LeWine, H., “Fish oil: friend or foe?” Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School web site, July 12, 2013; http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fish-oil-friend-or-foe-201307126467, last accessed February 20, 2015.
“Fish oil,” MedlinePlus web site, October 2, 2014; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/993.html, last accessed February 20, 2015.