Fish oil is, as you can guess from the name, is taken from the tissues of oily fish. It contains an essential fatty acid called omega 3 which is further divided into two important parts, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
As you are probably aware by now, most people are severely deficient in omega 3 in the average North American diet. To take advantage of the fish oil benefits that will be explained below, it’s important to understand that they come from having a good omega 3 to omega 6 ratio.
The Importance of the Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio
As I explain in the intro in my previous post on some of the common side effects of fish oil (mainly when taken as supplements), it’s very important to have this ratio as close to 1:1 to 1:3 as possible (omega 3 to omega 6) instead of the standard of 1:15 to 1:17 that most people in North America have. The only source of omega 3 in most North American’s diet is fish since most animals are fed grain nowadays to cut cost. The problem with animals such as beef being fed grain is that while they contain the same amounts of omega 6 as if they would be fed grass, they have very little omega 3. Grass fed beef usually contains a 1:1 ratio. Originally our ancestors were eating grass fed beef (since feeding them grain is unnatural for their diet… It was only done by the agricultural industry to cut costs). Also, many of us cook with vegetable oil which increases by a lot your omega 6 and messes up your ideal ratio even more. For this reason I completely ditched vegetable oils in the past few years except Olive oil every now and then (but not for cooking, only flavor). So now that you understand the importance you’re omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, onwards to the actual fish oil benefits you gain when you control of it!
The Major Fish Oil Benefits (By Having a Healthy Omega 3:6 Ratio)
The benefits from omega 3 come from eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docasahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both of these are important and it’s often debated back and forth which one is the most important… Either way, whether you get it your omega 3’s from fish or supplements, you will usually get around an almost equal amount of both. More on the exact quantities later! For now, the health benefits of having a good omega 3 ratio as taken on lef.org, head there if you want to see the studies backing up these claims. Most of these health benefits are quite well known throughout the population so they should come at no surprise!
- Omega-3 fatty acids have a well-established role in preventing cardiovascular disease and death.
- Recent studies are revealing a role for these beneficial fats in reducing your risk of premature death from numerous causes.
- By reducing your total body level of inflammation, omega-3s can slash the risk of many conditions that cause us to die early.
- Keeping your omega-3 levels high, and your omega-6 levels low, can help prevent the metabolic syndrome, symptoms of depression and anxiety, a variety of forms of cancer, and many forms of liver and kidney diseases, all of which are associated with premature death.
- Omega-3s also contribute to reducing the deadly effects of chronic stress and high cortisol levels.
In addition to these, a very important benefit, especially for pregnant mothers is that DHA (from omega 3) is very important for proper brain development. More than half of the brain is fat, and a large % of this is omega 3 fatty acids.
How to reap the health benefits of omega 3
The easy way is to simply supplement with a source of omega 3. In the case of supplements, this usually is from fish oil, cod liver oil or krill oil. Each of these supplements have different advantages beyond simply supplying omega 3 as explained in their respective posts below if you are interested in delving into the manner deeper!
Fish oil supplements
Cod liver oil supplements
Krill oil supplements
What’s important to understand is that the goal is not to just take as many omega 3’s in supplement form you need to reach 1:1 with your intake of omega 6. You must also LOWER your intake of omega 6 by ideally ditching large sources of it such as vegetable oil used in cooking (the primary culprit). Your body can only absorb a certain amount of omega 3 and 6 a day and if you feed it a lot of omega 6 than it will have a hard time also properly absorbing the omega 3 you are supplementing/feeding it. A dosage of around 500mg of EPA and DHA should be all you need in terms of supplements. Research shows that supplementing with larger amounts (think 5g+) might actually bring side effects! Most likely due to the increased risk of oxidation damage to the fats in the supplements that I wrote about in my post on the side effects of fish oil supplements. More is not necessarily better when it comes to omega 3’s (Chris Kresser does an excellent recap as to why in this post), it’s all about the ratio and having the minimum daily dosage of around 350mg of EPA and DHA. 1g a day of both is probably fine but more might be too much. If you eat grass fed meat you might not need to supplement much, especially if you ditch the higher sources of omega 6. Same goes if you regularly eat (ideally) WILD caught salmon. Farmed salmon will also have a higher amount of omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, it just might contain less of other nutrients and/or more toxicity depending on where they were raised. A 6 oz. portion (170 grams)of salmon contains about 1 gram of DHA, so if you are concerned about how much salmon you need, that’s a good portion to eat in a day or every other day. If you are vegetarian, you pretty much have no choice but to supplement.
Some people say DHA is more important than EPA but when you consider that they usually come in equal amounts in nature, it’s probably important to maintain this balance.
On days that I do not eat fish, I currently use Carlson Labs, Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, Lemon Flavor, 8.4 fl oz (250 ml). You can find it on amazon.com if you are inside the USA or iherb.com (use IFI934 for $5 off your first order) if you are from outside of the US. I personally use cod liver oil supplements because it comes with vitamin A and D which are both very useful. If you use actual oil instead of gel caps, make sure that the sun does not come into contact with the bottle and limit it’s exposure to air! This is to prevent oxidation of the omega 3’s. One teaspoon a day is all you need.