Fish oil has long been one of the world’s most popular health supplements – and for good reason.
Typically associated with cardiovascular and brain health, omega-3 fish oil capsules are, in fact, linked with an extensive array of benefits due to their healthful provision of Essential Fatty Acids.
Indeed, recent research has uncovered hitherto unknown benefits. You might know that omega-3s slash cardiac risk, but were you aware that they may keep gut bacteria in balance, protect against vision loss in the ageing, and help to reduce osteoarthritis pain?
In this article we evaluate the scientific evidence undergirding fish oil liquid and capsules, and aim to show why omega-3 supplements remain one of the most safe and effective dietary products currently available.
Acute inflammation is a necessary immune response, protecting us from infection and illness, and encouraging wounds to heal. But sometimes, for various reasons, once triggered our systems go into overdrive and molecules don’t signal effectively to halt the inflammation process.
Things start to get out of control, and the inflammation becomes chronic.
Over time, long-term inflammation can damage healthy cells, tissues and organs, leading to premature ageing and chronic conditions such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and cancer.
But could taking fish oils help to protect you from this?
These days, it’s relatively common knowledge that omega-3 fats are highly beneficial for our health with potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Fish oils, in particular, have been noted for their ability to reduce inflammatory markers and oxidative stress significantly, and their healing properties have been linked to all manner of conditions such as Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, anxiety and depression, ADHD, arthritis, high blood pressure, age-related macular degeneration and psoriasis.
As well as helping to suppress inflammation, fish oil appears to promote T-cells, white blood cells that play a crucial role in the immune system.
According to one 2017 study, fish oil could both prevent and treat inflammation and oxidative stress caused by air pollution, “delivering a 30-50% reduction in harm.”
To try and understand how they work in the body, some researchers have looked at the biological mechanism behind fish oils.
In the past, the halting of inflammation was seen as a passive process caused by the natural withdrawal of pro-inflammatory signals once the job is done. Modern medicine’s approach has reflected this, with anti-inflammatory drugs being designed to suppress those signals causing the inflammation.
However, it now appears that the stalling of inflammation is an active step performed by a particular set of chemical mediators, and it is the dysregulation of these ‘pro-resolving’ molecules that leads to chronic inflammation and disease.
Oily fish and fish oils are the most bioavailable source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and it is these two omega-3 fats that have been found to directly generate resolvins and protectins, pro-resolving chemical mediators that control the duration and magnitude of inflammation.
EPA and DHA are also key in producing lipoxins, another pro-resolution molecule.
In research, resolvins are linked to the reduction of inflammation and protection from arthritis, colitis and asthma. Protectins, meanwhile, can protect the synapses and circuitry of the brain.
A neuroprotectin called NPD1 is promptly produced in response to oxidative stress in the brain after injury, helping to protect against brain damage. It can also preserve neural and retinal cells, promoting brain and eye health.
Lipoxins are powerful anti-inflammatory triggers that are being looked at for their potential role in protecting against all manner of inflammatory diseases including kidney failure, cancer, Alzheimer’s and viral infections.
In studies, people suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases show reduced levels of these pro-resolution molecules. Ageing also affects their production, which could be one of the reasons why increasing age and chronic inflammation are often linked.
Alarmingly, a lack of omega-3 fats – including fish oil – is one of the dietary risks with the highest mortality rates in Americans.
Nutritionally, we need a healthy balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, but unfortunately, the typical Western diet is high in omega-6, and way too low in omega-3 fats.
This imbalance causes a distorted ratio which encourages chronic low-grade inflammation, so it’s essential to get the balance right by increasing our omega-3 intake.
The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), EPA and DHA. ALA is found in plant foods like nuts and seeds. It can convert to EPA and DHA, but only in minimal amounts, so consuming oily fish or taking a fish oil supplement is the best way to get adequate levels of EPA and DHA.
In research, consumption of fish oils has been directly linked to increased pro-resolving molecule production and the reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
So it stands to reason that if you are ageing, not getting enough EPA and DHA in your daily diet, suffer from an inflammatory disease or want to look after your brain health, increasing your fish oil consumption could be beneficial.
1) Cardiovascular Health
Fish oils can help to reduce triglycerides and blood pressure, improve vascular function, block clot-forming platelet activation reducing the risk of stroke, and protect those at high risk of arrhythmia and potential heart attack.
In one trial, heart attack survivors took a high-dose fish oil supplement for six months and showed significantly improved heart function and considerably reduced inflammation biomarkers, way beyond recommended care guidelines.
In another 14-year study with 2,735 adult participants, long-chain fatty acids like those present in fish oils were associated with a lower risk of congestive heart failure.
In 2011, patients on statins with coronary artery disease were split into two groups. One was given a daily 1800mg EPA supplement while the others stuck with statins only. After 48 weeks, EPA was shown to significantly reduce oxidative stress and inhibit the progression of arterial stiffness.
Lastly, a 2018 trial demonstrated that use of a high EPA fish oil sharply reduced the rate of cardiovascular events in individuals with a history of heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. Indeed, statin-treated adults with heightened triglyceride levels saw a 25% reduction in their relative risk of heart attacks, strokes and related cardiac events compared to a placebo control group – all from taking a purified EPA fish oil.
2) Brain Health
Several studies have supported the consumption of oily fish to help brain function and prevent or delay cognitive decline, and it has been linked to better cognitive performance in the elderly.
Preliminary studies on 12 patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) showed an improvement in symptoms after supplementing with fish oils with antioxidants for 4 to 17 months. The fish oil increased Resolvin D1 (a DHA generated resolvin) and reduced inflammation in the brain.
Inflammation is linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and due to its power to increase pro-resolution molecules in the brain and thereby reduce inflammation, fish oil consumption is associated with lower rates of neurological diseases like these.
Much more research is needed, but time and again, fish oils are researched for their benefit to Alzheimer’s (AD). While there is still no conclusive evidence to support their use as a treatment for this horrendous disease, some studies show positive results in specific areas.
In one clinical trial, positive effects were seen in a small group of patients with mild AD after supplementing for six months with 1.7 g DHA and 0.6 g EPA.
In 2015, results from a study involving ageing American adults (229 cognitively normal individuals, 397 patients with mild cognitive impairment and 193 patients with Alzheimer’s disease), showed that those who supplemented with fish oils over several months had less cognitive decline and brain shrinkage.
This did not include those suffering with, or with a genetic predisposition to, AD.
3) Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes
Low-grade inflammation and increased oxidative stress in the white fatty tissue of the chronically obese increase the risk of insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, amongst other things. It’s also linked to metabolic syndrome which predisposes you to type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Supplementing with fish oils can increase levels of lipoxins, resolvins and protectins leading to the lowering of inflammation within fatty tissue and the prevention of developing obesity-related complications.
Some early research supports calorie restriction and the inclusion of dietary long-chain fatty acids like those found in fish oil as a therapeutic treatment for metabolic syndrome.
Interestingly, although more research is needed, some studies have linked fish oil consumption to increased weight loss.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you could be more vulnerable to cognitive impairment and dementia, as well as eye complications like diabetic retinopathy.
One study demonstrated the potential of fish oils to reduce oxidative stress in the brain and lower the risk of cognitive decline in diabetics.
Another six-year observational study tracked the fish oil consumption of over 3,000 type 2 diabetic men and women between the ages of 55 and 80. Those who met the target of 500mg of fish oil per day, or two portions of oily fish a week, were 48% less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy.
Cancer is another disease associated with chronic inflammation, and a growing number of studies are revealing fish oil’s potential to slow and prevent some cancers because of its ability to mediate and control inflammation by increasing pro-resolving molecules like lipoxins and resolvins.
In some studies, cancers including colon, pancreatic, prostate, and breast cancer have been positively affected by omega-3 fats.
According to some research, women with previously diagnosed and treated early-stage breast cancer who have higher levels of EPA and DHA from fish oils, have a 25% less chance of further complications than those with lower levels.
In one Indian study, omega-3 fats including the EPA and DHA found in fish oil, inhibited breast tumour development. This was, in part, down to their inflammation-reducing capabilities. The review recommended the use of omega-3 supplementation as an adjunct to conventional treatment, to enhance its effectiveness and potentially reduce the required dosage.
Omega-3 fats have the potential to decrease the risk of prostate cancer and slow its progression. In a study with 48 men, those taking 5g of fish oil per day for four to six weeks before surgery showed reduced cancerous tissue and decreased cancer proliferation.
Fish oil can also help with the side effects of cancer treatment. For example, one trial involving lung cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy showed that supplementing with 2.2g of fish oil per day enabled them to maintain weight and muscle mass, rather than having to endure treatment-related weight loss.
5) Anxiety and Depression
Omega-3 fats, particularly EPA and DHA found in fish, are considered the most critical healthy fats for feeding the brain and boosting mood.
Although studies aiming to determine a correlation between fish oil intake and depression have varied and contrasting results, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that low levels of PUFAs, particularly EPA and DHA, can make us more susceptible to depression.
Clinical trials researching fish oil supplementation to treat depression are also mixed, but there are many to support their use for relieving depression and improving other related symptoms. For example, low levels of omega-3 affect the brain’s dopamine systems which can alter our mood. Fish oil supplements containing higher EPA to DHA seem to have the most significant effect on depression.
There have been some positive results in the realms of postnatal depression and also bipolar disorder, where omega-3 supplementation is more effective for the depressive stage rather than the manic stage.
Water for Health represents WHC Health Consulting in the UK and Ireland. WHC produce fish oil supplements that are of outstanding quality, with exceptional purity, and the highest concentration of EPA/DHA available.
The fish oils manufactured by the company are combined with other valuable nutrients to give you a range of products to support overall health, in particular brain, cardiovascular and joint health.
WHC pride themselves on the purity of their supplements with PCBs, heavy metals and pesticides consistently testing below detectable limits.
Out of respect for the environment, the fish are harvested from sustainable sources using cold environmentally-friendly technology. Only fish that are recognised as not being endangered are used, such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel and herring.
A balanced mix of rosemary and tocopherol extracts maintains the freshness of each WHC supplement.
Since 2015, WHC’s UnoCardio 1000 has been classified as the world’s best-quality fish oil supplement by the US independent laboratory Labdoor. Of 53 products tested, it was the only one to be awarded an overall ‘A’ rating, taking into account quality, purity and value. In short, it is recognised as the best of the best. Sister product UnoCardio X2 is currently ranked #3.
We trust this article has resonated with you. Next time you see a story in the media claiming that “fish oils are useless,” you can refer to the numerous studies quoted here; and know that there are many more if you only choose to look.
The science is not unanimous, for some studies show little or no benefit of fish oils for certain conditions. However, it is always worth digging deeper: how much fish oil was used? Were the dosages appropriate? Was EPA, DHA or the inferior ALA favoured?
Fish oil is not a panacea to all health problems, however there is enough evidence to show that it can be massively beneficial when used correctly.
Have a look at our Fish Oils Comparison Chart to see the vast difference between our products and others on the market.
This article was written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
According to one study, fish oil could both prevent and treat inflammation and oxidative stress caused by air pollution, “delivering a 30-50% reduction in harm.”