You have certainly heard of fish oil but do you really know the facts behind one of the most popular supplements on the market? Nutritionist Jessica Kim lays out the land on the oils and highlights where muscle building enthusiasts can benefit most!
Coldwater fish have been seen as a cardiovascular hero ever since it was observed years ago that Eskimos and Japanese people (who eat a lot of fish), have a low rate of heart disease. Beyond the heart benefits, it's claimed that fish can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and other auto-immune disorders. Even more health claims are made for fish-oil capsules, which take up lots of shelf space in health-food stores and drugstores. Fish is good food, certainly, but let's not go overboard. Here are the fish facts.
What's special about fish oil?
The fat in fish is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids called omega-3s, the major marine types being eicosapentenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexenoic acid (DHA). Fatty fish are the richest sources of these on the planet. The two types of omega-3s thin the blood (just as aspirin does), thus providing what is thought to be their biggest health benefit--reduced risk of heart attack.
Does fish oil lower elevated cholesterol?
The research has not been conclusive on this issue. It seems that it does so when the fish replaces other meat containing high saturated fat in the diet. However, when a study examined saturated fat, it found minimal effects.
So what effect does fish have on the risk of heart disease?
Most population studies find some beneficial effect (especially against heart attacks), but the results have been surprisingly inconsistent. Interestingly, some important studies (notably the Harvard Health Professionals Follow-up Study in 1995) have found that fish consumption doesn't reduce the risk of heart disease, but may reduce the risk of dying from it. A 1997 study that followed 1,800 men from the Chicago area for 30 years, found that those who ate at least eight ounces of fish a week had a 40% lower risk of fatal heart attack than those who ate no fish (the study didn't look at nonfatal heart attacks).
It seems that there is (as usual) more research to be done on this topic, although it is definitely one to keep your eye on.
Why this sea of contradictions?
Much of the debate about fish oil is theoretical (not based on data from clinical studies). Perhaps, if fish oil does protect the heart, it may not be by obvious means such as lowering blood cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood pressure. For instance, some studies suggest that omega-3s may be beneficial because they modulate electrical activity in the heart, thus making the heart less susceptible to dangerous, sometimes fatal, rhythm abnormalities.
In addition, in population studies that compare fish eaters to those who do not eat fish, it's possible that the non fish-eaters have a less healthy lifestyle. Researchers adjust the data for such "confounding factors," but can't control data for everything.
What about rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory disorders?
This may be where fish holds the most promise clinically and for weightlifters, though the research is only in its preliminary stages. Fish oil may help relieve inflammatory symptoms of these auto-immune diseases by suppressing the immune response. More than a dozen studies have suggested that high doses of fish oil supplements (taken long term and with pain medication) can reduce joint swelling, ease morning stiffness and lessen fatigue in people with rheumatoid arthritis. If this is an area of concern for yourself, talk to your doctor or a health care professional about the possibilities.
Don't some plants contain omega-3s?
Yes. But leafy greens and some vegetable oils (such as walnut, flaxseed, or canola) contain only the short-chain omega-3 linolenic acid, not the longer-chain fatty acids found in fish oils. Fish are able to convert the linolenic acid in algae and other sea plants into EPA and DHA, but humans can do so only to a limited degree.
We recommend fish, and advise to use the supplements only if you donâ€™t eat fish on a weekly basis. Fish itself is one of the best foods around. Besides its oil, coldwater fish is rich in protein, iron, B vitamins and other nutrients. It can also take the place of meats that are high in saturated fat. Studies concluding that fish enhances cardiovascular health suggest that two servings a week are enough. In fact, a higher intake of fish isn't necessarily better for your health; however you should try different levels (within moderation) to find what works best for you.
Jessica Kim â€“ A clinical nutritionist and aspiring dietician, Jessica spends most of her time doing rounds as a nutritionist in a hospital setting. Her passion for writing and health translate into a unique clinical perspective on health topics. Jessica has no problem pointing out where fitness enthusiasts take a single research study to the extreme, by reminding us of sound clinical advice! Jessica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org