Do we really need to take fish oil supplements?

No Comments BBC Fish Oil Feature Nov 2012

Fish Oils: Why do we need them?

What is so good about Fish Oil

There is an abundance of research that shows that fish oil can help to prevent a whole

range of inflammatory conditions including, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, alzheimers,

skin diseases, eczema, psoriasis, and even cancer. The reason being that fish oils contain

the essential fatty acid Omega 3, which is a long chain fatty acid that is converted by

enzymes into hormone like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are

responsible for the signalling and control of cells and their interactions.

EFA’s (omega 3 and 6) are needed for keeping cells lubricated, allowing energy uptake

and allowing waste removal. If these processes are prevented from happening efficiently

then it can lead to chronic inflammation, which is the starting point for many diseases,

such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer and others.

So do we need to add more Omega 3 to our diet?

The reason why we are being encouraged to add more fish oil to our diet is because of

what we now eat and how that effects the balance of fats in our body. A western diet is

much more weighted towards fats other than fish oils, and there is a lot if data to show that

many if us have an imbalance of the essential fatty acids, omega 3 and 6 and an

abundance of trans fats, all of which can contribute to causing inflammatory diseases.

As hunter/gatherers we would consume a ratio of omega 6/omega 3 of 4:1, it is now more

like 20 :1.

These days we eat a diet rich in omega 6 and trans fats, when we eat vegetable oils and

processed, high carbohydrate food sources such as pies, cakes, biscuits and bread and

we no longer eat as much oily fish, offal, wild animal meat and green leafy vegetables.

The important factor here is an imbalance, in EFA’s. Both omega 6 and omega 3 EFA’s

utilise the same enzyme to convert them to prostaglandins. Some of the omega 6

prostaglandins are inflammatory and some are anti-inflammatory, but because we

consume much more omega 6 then we are much more likely to cause an inflammation

cascade, that can lead to diseases. Omega 3 oils DHA and EPA are anti inflammatory, but

their conversion is sometimes prevented due to the abundance of omega 6. The two

omega’s compete for the same converting enzyme and omega 6s generally win. This is

why we are encouraged to take fish and fish oils (omega 3’s) to help by pass this

conversion and ensure that we are receiving a good level of anti-inflammatory substances.

But are fish oil supplements effective or necessary?

Currently, there is a great debate about whether fish oil supplements actually work and

some recent research has begun to suggest that supplements are not effective in reducing

the incidence of disease, especially heart disease. It is true that in order for our body to

convert EFA’s to anti-inflammatory substances, we also need a whole range of vitamins

and minerals, in particular, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and B3 and vitamin C and it is

true that oily fish not only contains a high quantity of omega 3’s but also these vitamins

and minerals that allow the conversion process to take place. And so the best advice

would be for us to consume less omega 6 foods, such as processed carbohydrates and

more oily fish, to ensure this conversion happens effectively. But there are many people BBC Fish Oil Feature Nov 2012

who for one reason or another just cannot consume high quantities of omega 3 and for

whom a supplement, is really the best alternative.

There are masses of well researched papers that confirm that omega 3 supplementation

really does help to slow the ageing process and the incidence of disease. One of the

recent studies shows that supplements help to protect cell chromosome, telomere’s which

get worn as we age, leading to degenerative disease. By protecting the telomeres, we are

effectively slowing down the ageing process. Many studies have shown that omega 3

supplementation has helped with brain function. 60% of the brain is fat and 35% is EFA’s.

EFA’s are essential for the functioning of brain synapses and of brain cell repair and have

been shown to help with memory and brain function problems including Alzheimers and


Research shows that EFA’s help to support cell wall structure and help to prevent the

release of plaques that can lead to stroke and heart attacks. They help with blood flow

and blood pressure and can help prevent the hardening of arteries, which can lead to heart


So what is the best way of getting the right balance of Essential Fatty Acids?

1. Eat at least 2/3 portions of oily fish per week, salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna.

2. Eat at least 1/2 portions of green leafy vegetables per day: cabbage, broccoli, kale,


3. Eat a handful of walnuts, flax seeds per day

4. Reduce the amount of processed carbohydrate to one portion per day. Ie pies, cakes,

biscuits, bread. Or give them up completely

5. If you don’t eat a lot of processed carbs then ensure you get your omega 6 balance

from sunflower or safflower oil, sesame seeds or soya.

6. If you can afford it try to eat lean free range organic meat 3 times per week

7. Eat plenty of free range eggs

If you can’t get the right balance of omega 3 and 6’s then take a supplement.

WARNING. Pregnant, lactating women and people taking drugs for heart conditions

should always check with their GP, before making changes to their diet or adding

supplements of this kind.

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