If this week's headlines have you thinking you can stop taking your fish oil supplements, keep reading. The headlines and news coverage of the study they were based on do not tell the whole story. But as I've said before, it is never a good idea to make a dietary change based on a single news report unless it's for a food recall, and here's why.
The research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated whether people taking fish oil capsules had less risk of heart disease and death than those who did not. While the headlines said they did not, several factors limited the findings. The biggest one being that the subjects were not a healthy population, but people who had already suffered heart attacks and strokes. Since most people with a history of cardiovascular disease are taking multiple medications, it simply may not have been possible to tell what impact their fish oil supplements were having on lowering their risk factors.
Key Take-Away: This study provides no indication of how fish oil supplements benefit healthy people, but plenty of others do.
Why Take Fish Oil Capsules?
Fish oil capsules are a source of essential omega 3 fatty acids. An essential nutrient is required by the body, but cannot be manufactured by the body. That means we must get it from food or supplements.
What Types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids Do We Need?
There is not just one omega 3 fatty acid. The name omega 3 simply indicates that there is a double bond (between two carbon atoms) in a specific location on the fatty acid. For dietary purposes, we are most concerned with the types of omega 3s found in fatty fish, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and the type found in plants called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
What Role Do Omega 3 Fatty Acids Play in the Body?
Omega 3 fatty acids play a role in several metabolic processes, including reducing inflammation, lowering high triglyceride (blood fat) levels, reducing the pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis, improving cognitive function with aging, aiding the treatment of depression, and enhanced brain development in infants. Research also shows omega 3 may reduce the risk of plaque build up in the arteries, inflammatory bowel disease, Attention Deficit Disorder, bone loss, and psychiatric disorders.
How Much Omega 3 Do We Need?
The Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Science establishes the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for essential nutrients for both the U.S. and Canada. The DRI are intended to satisfy the nutrient needs of most healthy people in each age group. The Acceptable Intake (AI) of omega 3 fatty acids for males and females aged 40-50 years is 1.6grams/day and 1.1 grams/day respectively.
How Much Omega 3 Do We Consume?
Eating 8 ounces a week of a variety of seafood supplies about 1.7 grams of EPA and DHA, which is enough to meet the DRI for adult men and women noted above. But the mean intake of all types of fish eaten by Americans is 3.5 ounces per week, less than half the amount needed to meet the Acceptable Intake. Plant sources of omega 3, such as seed oils, walnuts, and soybeans, supply 1.3-2.0 grams a day of ALA, but less than 5 percent of it is converted to DHA and EPA.
Do We Need Fish Oil Supplements?
All dietary supplements are meant to help fill in the gaps created when we don't eat all the foods we need in the amounts we need to meet our nutritional needs every day. Fish oil supplement are an excellent way to get essential omega 3 fatty acids if you are not eating 8 ounce/week of seafood, such as salmon, sardines and tuna.
Are you eating all the fish you need each week to get your omega 3s?