When people ask me which supplements they should take, of course, the answer is “it depends.” It depends on their goals, their unique biochemistry, their lifestyle, their dietary intake, and so much more. But there are three supplements that I recommend to almost everyone. I’ve written before about the benefits of probiotics, and the benefits and types of magnesium, and today, it’s time for the third: here are the benefits of fish oil!
What are omega-3s?
First, let’s start with some important background information: the beneficial components in fish oil are the omega-3 fatty acids. You may have heart of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, and you may have even heard that omega-6 are the “bad” kind. This is not entirely true: we need both (as well as omega-9), but the average American gets far more omega-6 than they need, and not enough omega-3, so we are off balance.
Omega-6s come naturally from some foods like walnuts, tofu, and hemp seeds, as well as peanut butter, eggs, and almonds. You may be thinking, “I don’t eat a ton of those, so why am I likely high in omega-6?” and the answer is that omega-6s also occur in high doses in processed and packaged food and low-quality oils. This is the problem, and why we’re so off balance as a human population. In fact, while the best ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in our diets is likely between 1:1 and 4:1, some research shows that people who consume a Western diet may be closer to 15:1 to 17:1! This is pretty dramatic and is the root of several health issues.
What are the benefits of fish oil?
Fish oil supplements have been popularized (rightly so!) for their beneficial effects on heart health, brain health, and inflammation, and it’s all because of those omega-3s.
Here are some of the top benefits of fish oil:
- Reduced risk of heart attack: Intake of omega-3s is associated with lower risk of heart attack and cardiac-related death according to large meta-analyses.
- Increased longevity: In a fascinating study, people whose blood showed high percentages of omega-3 fatty acids lived almost 5 years longer than those with the lowest percentages! The level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood samples was as predictive of longevity as any of the standard risk factors, including age, sex, total cholesterol, blood pressure, and presence of diabetes!
- Reduced triglycerides: Many studies show the power of fish oil to reduce triglycerides, and even the American Heart Association (which is historically slow to recommend things like this) recommends taking EPA and DHA to lower triglycerides. See this post for more on cholesterol and if you need to lower it.
- Improved insulin sensitivity: Fish oil intake is associated with increased insulin sensitivity (meaning, less risk for diabetes) in people who have beginning stages of metabolic disease. Want more on blood sugar? Check out my free masterclass here!
- Reduced chronic inflammation: Omega-3s give us the precursors to build anti-inflammatory compounds, and also reduce the production of pro-inflammatory compounds. So, if you feel inflamed, have a high hs-CRP blood test, or know that inflammation is at the root of virtually all chronic diseases, this is a huge motivator!
- Reduced blood pressure: Increasing omega-3 intake can lead to modest reductions in blood pressure.
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease overall: There are numerous studies on cardiovascular disease and fish oil or omega-3 intake, but one in particular showed that people with the highest omega-3 levels had 39% lower risk of cardiovascular disease overall than those with the lowest levels!
- Reduced risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative conditions: Research is ongoing, but seems to indicate benefits in the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative conditions.
How can I get omega-3s from food?
The three main omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are found primarily in fish and other seafood, and ALA is found in a variety of plant-based sources. When we consume ALA, our bodies can convert a small fraction of it into EPA and then DHA, but this process is very limited and would require a very large intake of ALA to get the DHA we need. So, I recommend people consume a variety of the plant and animal foods required to get a balanced intake of omega-3s.
The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish. If you don’t yet consume high-quality fish, I highly encourage you to do so, at least a few times per week! Here are the omega-3 quantities of some of the best fish sources:
- Mackerel: 4,850 mg omega-3 per serving
- Salmon: 2,150 mg omega-3 per serving (I like the wild-caught salmon from Butcher Box – here’s a discount!)
- Herring: 2,150 mg omega-3 per serving
- Sardines: 1,463 mg omega-3 per serving
- Caviar: 1,046 mg omega-3 per serving
- Oysters: 329 mg omega-3 per serving
Given the caveat above, we are less likely to get the omega-3s we need from purely plant sources. That said, here are some plant-based sources of omega-3s:
- Chia seeds
- Brussels sprouts
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
What are the best fish oil supplements?
If you’re consuming multiple (3+) servings of high-quality fish like the above every week, you likely don’t need a fish oil supplement. If you’re not, or you (like me!) want to be extra sure that you’re getting the benefits listed above, I recommend a fish oil supplement.
If you’re looking to include a fish oil supplement into your daily routine, here are things I suggest looking for:
- At least 500 mg of combined EPA and DHA. Don’t look for total omega-3 content; as discussed, this includes ALA, which isn’t well-converted.
- Practices to minimize the mercury content of the supplement and protect the environment (for example, Kion uses cold-pressed anchovies as a source to naturally minimize mercury, and Carlson uses deep, cold-water fish and sustainable sourcing practices)
- An opaque bottle. Fish oil can be damaged by sun exposure, so we want the bottle to not be see-through
- No other junky ingredients. There will almost always be other ingredients (for example, tocopherols can help with stabilization, and there needs to be a capsule surrounding the fish oil itself), but we want to minimize the chemical-sounding inactive ingredients on the label.
When to take fish oil: any time of day. Ideally, with food, but this isn’t necessary.
Who should not take fish oil: If you’re taking blood thinners, talk to your doctor before taking fish oil.
My top fish oil recommendations:
- Kion Fish Oil: Use code LYONS for a discount. I love that they include rosemary extract and astaxanthin to stabilize the oils and are using the right source of omega-3s for maximum absorption.
- Carlson Elite Omega: My first recommendation before Kion came out with their product, it’s still a great option.
Want more? Fish oil is just one of the dozens of supplements I review, debunk, and unpack for members of my Revitalize Health Accelerator. If you want a step-by-step, proven formula to improve your holistic health, join us today!
Now it’s your turn … Do you take a fish oil supplement? Which benefit are you most excited about?