Fish Oil

Macronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

Fish oil contains a powerful form of essential fatty acid called omega-3 — a healthy, “good fat.” Because survey’s indicate as much as 90% of the American population is deficient in good fats, such as those found in fish oil, many people are turning to fish oil supplements to support optimal health and performance.

Other names for Fish Oil

omega-3, EPA, DHA

Where to find Fish Oil

Fish oils are found in cold water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout, halibut, and sardines.

Note All fish oils deteriorate rapidly when exposed to light, heat, and metals.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Fish Oil

People from all walks of life use fish oil to support the overall health of many of the body’s major systems, including the immune, cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive systems. Active individuals especially are finding that fish oils and other essential fatty acids are not only essential for optimal health but improve performance as well.

Shown to decrease muscle breakdown, decrease inflammation, increase muscle growth, speed recovery time, support hormone secretion, and support healthy joints and connective tissue, fish oils have a wealth of benefits for any athlete.

Ways that Fish Oil can enhance Muscle Gain & Recovery:
  • Reduce inflammation in muscles and joints to speed recovery time
  • Maintain the health and structure of connective tissue and joints
  • Support testosterone levels for optimal muscle development
Ways that Fish Oil can enhance Longevity:
  • Dramatically decrease triglyceride levels to reduce the risk of heart disease

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Fish Oil deficiency

No deficiency conditions are known to exist.

Potential uses for Fish Oil

Research indicates that Fish Oil may be useful in the treatment of:

  • Asthma
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Skin allergies
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Arthritis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Cancer
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Menstrual pain

DISCUSSION

More about Fish Oil

Fish oil contains a powerful form of essential fatty acid (EFA) called omega-3. But unlike most forms of omega-3 EFA’s, fish oil contains high amounts of linolenic acid, which is converted into EPA (eicosepanteanoic acid) and DHA (docohexaenoic acid). These essential fatty acids are needed to make a family of hormones called “eicosanoids.” They are made in the body from alpha-linolenic acid and are essential for normal brain functioning and are also involved in regulating blood pressure and immune response.

EPA and DHA have been shown in research to dramatically decrease triglyceride levels and significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. Recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on improving blood pressure and reducing the risk of ischemic heart disease. During the 7-week study, 38 middle-aged men and women who had elevated cholesterol levels took either eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), or a placebo. While the placebo group experienced no change, both groups on the omega-3 fatty acids enjoyed significant declines in plasma total triacylglycerol amounts, which appears to help prevent cardiac risk by improving the elasticity of large arteries.

Researchers have also found that DHA influences mood because it is the major EFA in the central nervous system. In fact, studies have found that people with low levels of DHA tend to have higher levels of depression.

In addition to their well-known heart benefits and possible mood-enhancing effects, the EFA’s in fish oil also regulate prostaglandins, which are essential hormone-like substances that support many of the major systems in our bodies, including the immune, cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive systems.

What does this have to do with performance?

Fish oils may support athletic performance in a number of ways. Studies show the EFA’s in fish oil decrease muscle breakdown, increase muscle growth, reduce the time it takes muscles to recover after exercise, aid in the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream, and enhance a wide range of metabolic and hormonal functions.

In addition, studies have drawn a close correlation between diets low in omega-3’s and decreased testosterone production. For example, one study found that individuals with a 36% dietary fat intake compared to individuals with a 7% fat intake had an average of 22% higher testosterone levels.

This finding is of particular interest to male athletes on reduced-fat nutrition plans. Because testosterone plays such a key role in building muscle size and strength, athletes with low fat intakes may be compromising their muscle development. But keep in mind, we’re not talking about just any kind of fat. We’re talking about the “good unsaturated fats” (omega-3 essential fatty acids) and not the artery-clogging saturated fats found in burgers and fries.

Cell protectors of the most impressive kind, omega-3 EFA’s also help construct the membranes in every cell in our bodies, protecting the cells from harmful invaders and contributing to their structural integrity. For this reason, fish oil is often recommended for people who suffer from arthritis and other painful joint conditions. Research shows that the omega-3’s in fish oil lubricate dry, brittle joints, decrease inflammation, and help maintain the health and structure of the connective tissue surrounding the joints.

In truth

Loading up on fast foods is not the solution. If that were the case, most Americans would not have to worry about getting enough EFA’s. The challenge is we don’t get enough of the right kinds of fats. In fact, surveys indicate that as much as 90% of the American population is deficient in the “good fats” found in fish oil.

Eating plenty of cold water fish is one solution, although it’s not a guarantee. Unfortunately, a number of factors can block the conversion of linolenic acid into EPA and DHA, including excessive alcohol consumption, zinc deficiencies, a diet high in processed vegetable oils and sugar, and high cholesterol levels. That’s why so many people are turning to fish oil supplements rich in linolenic acid and omega-3 EFA’s in addition to making dietary changes.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

Some experts recommend 2 to 9 grams (1 to 2 teaspoons) of fish oil to prevent omega-3 essential fatty acid deficiencies and 9 to 18 grams per day to support optimal health and performance. Studies have shown that as little as 2.6 grams a day can reduce arthritis pain.

Timing

It appears to be best to consume fish oils with (or as part of) meals.

Tip

When consumed with hot liquids, fish oils are more likely to create the well-known fishy breath. This isn’t a good thing if you’re on a date or looking forward to intimate discussions with friends.

Synergists of Fish Oil

No synergists have been noted.

Toxicity of Fish Oil

No known toxicity.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Alexander, J.W., “Immunonutrition: The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” Nutrition 14.7-8 (1998) : 627-33.
  • Anderson, G.J., and Connor, W.E., “On the Demonstration of Omega-3 Essential-Fatty-Acid Deficiency in Humans (editorial),” Am J Clin Nutr,” 49.4 (1989) : 585-7.
  • Brilla, L.R., and Landerholm, T.E., “Effect of Fish Oil Supplementation and Exercise on Serum Lipids and Aerobic Fitness,” J Sports Med Phys Fitness 30.2 (1990) : 173-80.
  • Horrobin, D.F., “The Importance of Gamma-Linolenic Acid and Prostaglandin E1 in Human Nutrition and Medicine,” J Holistic Med 3 (1981) : 118-39.
  • Nestel, P., et al., “The N-3 Fatty Acids Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid Increase Systemic Arterial Compliance in Humans,” Am J Clin Nutr 76 (2002) : 326-30.
  • Prisco, D., et al., “Effect of Medium-Term Supplementation with a Moderate Dose of n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Blood Pressure in Mild Hypertensive Patients,” Thromb Res 91.3 (1998) : 105-12.
  • Sargent, J.R., “Fish Oils and Human Diet,” Br J Nutr 78.S1 (1997) : S5-13.
  • Schmidt, E.B., and Dyerberg, J., “Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Current Status in Cardiovascular Medicine,” Drugs 47.3 (1994) :405-24.
  • Yehuda, S., “Essential Fatty Acids Are Mediators of Brain Biochemistry and Cognitive Functions,” J Neurosci Res 56.6 (1999) : 565-70.