Supplements Made Simple - Fish Oil

This is adapted from the book, Eat Smart, Play Hard, by RW USA Nutrition Editor Liz Applegate.

A type of oil called omega-3 fatty acid, which is found in fish such as salmon and tuna, can lower your blood cholesterol. As a fitness enthusiast, you should be interested in fish oil for a different reason: its anti-inflammatory action. An omega-3 fatty acid supplement of 1 to 1 1/2 grams a day may reduce joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and even help those with psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disorders. Think of it as a natural painkiller for your sore, overworked muscles.

Fish oil may work by affecting the prostaglandin levels in your body. Different types of prostaglandins signal different bodily responses. Some tell your tissues to swell up; others tell those same tissues to calm down. Researchers suspect that years of eating too much of omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils) and too little of omega-3’s may bring on inflammation.

Omega-6 fats are not bad fats; they can be quite healthy. Most of us are out of balance, however. Scientists suspect that the healthiest ratio of these fats is four omega-6’s to every one omega-3. That doesn’t sound hard to follow until you learn that the typical diet in the United States contains about 10 omega-6’s to one omega-3.

My recommendation: Don’t run out to the store, buy a bottle of fish oil supplements, and down the whole thing at once. For fish oil to work, you need to increase omega-3’s while decreasing the saturated fats found in butter, the trans fats found in processed foods, and the omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oil. So as you supplement with up to 2 grams a day of omega-3’s, cut back on other, less healthful fats. And bump up your intake of fish and flaxseed meal or oil to two servings a week.

Taking lots of fish oil supplements can have not-so-nice side effects such as bad breath, body odor, and diarrhea. Look for enteric-coated, delayed release capsules, which will help offset those side effects, and make an effort to eat real fish rather than relying on supplements.