What is fish oil for, and what are the benefits of taking it?
You’ve probably heard of omega-3s and fish oil. And you may be wondering if you need them, why you need them and how much should be taking every day. For starters though, it’s important to learn a little about omega-3s… because, not all omega-3 fatty acids are the same.
A Little Biochemistry (don’t worry it isn’t scary!)
Omega-3 fatty acids are basically a category of polyunsaturated fatty acids - the building blocks of fat in our body and our food. So, any fat found in food is typically composed of a variety of fatty acids (olive oil for instance, has different types of monounsaturated fatty acids as well as saturated fatty acids).
Additionally, there are several kinds of omega-3s. In fact, walnuts, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, hemp seed and canola oil all contain a source of omega 3s called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA; at the top of the diagram below). Luckily for us, our bodies can manufacture two key omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, from ALA, but only 8-21% of ALA makes its way to EPA and 4-9% makes its way to DHA. That’s not a whole lot to write home about. And, if it’s EPA and DHA you are looking for – it makes sense to consume them directly versus loading up on ALA hoping your body is at the higher end of that range (which by the way, men are on the low end and women on the high end).
Why You Need the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA
Now that you understand that consuming one type of omega-3 doesn’t necessarily cover all of your omega-3 bases, it’s important to take a look at the benefits of EPA and DHA in particular. EPA and DHA are found in many tissues throughout the body, making them an essential component of cell wall integrity, mental functioning, the production of hormone-like compounds and healthy eyes. Among other research-based benefits, EPA and DHA help reduce some risk factors for cardiovascular disease, decrease some measures of inflammation, help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (especially if you haven’t exercised in a while), and keep your body lean and fit.
The most well researched benefit associated with consuming fatty fish or the combination of EPA and DHA (by supplement) is a decrease in some risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This powerful duo is associated with a decrease in triglycerides (fat in your blood), a slight decrease in blood pressure, and a decrease in risk of heart attack. Bottom line: EPA and DHA are good for heart health. But, even if keeping your heart ticking isn’t on the top of your priority list, EPA and DHA can do a more for you as well….
This combination acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory throughout your body. Though research is still catching up to prove all of the incredible things they do to fight inflammation, we do know that they help decrease symptoms of stiffness and pain in those with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis (worn down cartilage from years of using your joints). One study examining omega-3s and pain found that DHA and EPA decreased symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness in untrained men who performed an eccentric exercise bout (eccentric means lengthening of the muscles, so the lowering phase of a bicep curl for instance is an eccentric movement). So whether you’re trying to loosen up before a game or want to help decrease the symptoms of soreness from exercise, fish oil that contains EPA and DHA is a safe supplement that can decrease these types of pain.
Last but certainly not least, studies done in animals show that EPA and DHA help prevent obesity. That’s right, take fat and get lean! How on earth can this happen you ask? It seems that EPA and DHA inhibit key enzymes that are involved in fat synthesis in the body and they prevent free fatty acids, floating around in your blood, from entering fat cells for storage.
The research-based benefits of EPA and DHA, along with their great safety profile, should be enough to convince anyone that these fatty acids are worth their weight in gold. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring, halibut, lake trout, albacore tuna and bluefin tuna) or you can opt for fish oil supplements (also sometimes labeled as omega 3 EPA + DHA supplements). It is always a good idea to speak to your physician first before taking a supplement. And, if you are on blood thinning medication definitely talk to your physician first, prior to taking EPA and DHA.
Looking for great fish oil supplements without the fish oil aftertaste? 1R would recommend the following supplements:
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