Fish oil comes from the flesh of wild fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and sardines. Some research has shown that this substance is beneficial to human health because it contains high levels of the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The fish do not actually produce omega-3 fatty acids, but rather, the fish eat microalgae that produce these fatty acids, or in the case of predator fish, they eat prey fish that have accumulated omega-3 fatty acids from eating microalgae. It is for this reason that the “wild-caught” designation is important.
Farm-raised fish which are fed corn instead of microalgae and other fish have much lower levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in their flesh.
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the precursors to the creation of body hormones called eicosanoids. Omega-6 fatty acids are also involved in eicosanoid production.
Eicosanoids control virtually every function in the human body and are extremely critical to health and well being.
There are two different types of eicosanoids. As mentioned, one is made from Omega-3 fatty acids, and the other is made from Omega-6 essential fatty acids. Good health results from a balance between the two types.
Eicosanoids made from Omega 6 fatty acids are generally pro-inflammatory, while those made from omega-3 fatty acids are generally anti-inflammatory.
The actions of these hormones have effects on many body health factors including cardiovascular disease, triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and arthritis.
In general, the modern standard American diet is very high in inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids. This is due to the increase in the consumption of refined vegetable oils. The American Heart Association and other nutritional authorities have for years advised the American public to increase their consumption of vegetable oils while reducing saturated fat consumption.
Because of this advice, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acid consumption in America is about 20 to 1. Some researchers believe that the ratio should be about 1 to 1 to maintain a balance for good health.
Many researchers believe that inflammation is at the root of many disease conditions and that Omega-6 oils contribute directly to body inflammation. The conventional wisdom is that taking fish or krill oil supplements has the effect of re-balancing the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio, which translates into a balance of pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory eicosanoid levels, and reducing body inflammation if present.
To increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, you can eat wild-caught salmon or other high fat fish at least 2 times a week, or take supplements.
Side Effects and Benefits
The oil from fish and krill, like many other supplements, has both side effects and benefits. I’ve put together a page on each:
Resources for Further Reading
- Are unsaturated fats beneficial? an alternative view of fish oils.
- Second Opinions
- Omega Rx Zone: The Miracle of the New High-Dose Fish Oil by Barry Sears, MD
- The Omega-3 Connection: The Groundbreaking Antidepression Diet and Brain Program by Andrew Stoll, MD
- Cardiovascular Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids a Science Daily article