Here's a look at the benefit of a fish oil supplement to your health.
One easy and quick way to help yourself to a measure of good health is to take a fish oil supplement daily - or nearly daily.
This page deals with the benefits of fish oil - and its limitations. Read on below for the main benefits of fish oil as a health food supplement.
Picture, right, of fish oil capsules with thanks to Zimpenfish
Why take fish oil supplements?
Fish oil is one of nature's best resources for health. It contains Omega 3 fatty acids which tend to be otherwise deficient in some modern diets.
Of course you can eat fresh fish too, but there are some environmental and health concerns you might want to be aware of.
Probably the chief benefit of a fish oil supplement is the Omega 3 fatty acids which it supplies. Omega three fatty acids have been shown by recent research to help a whole range of conditions including premature ageing, arthritis and atherosclerosis.
Fish oil supplements are generally well tolerated, although some people may notice a fishy after-taste.
It is worth checking with your physician before adding fish oil to your diet, as fish oil supplements may react with some prescription medicines. A few people may experience allergic reactions from fish oil.
Studies have shown that patients given fish oil after a heart attack show far better rates of recovery and are less likely to suffer further attacks. Atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries which is often part of the cause of heart attacks, is also helped by the use of fish oil as a supplement.
There is good evidence that a lot of chronic disease is caused by low-level inflammation, which is caused by a poor balance of nutrients. Many many people on standard western diets with a high fat and sugar profile are opening themselves up to long-term health problems.
An adequate supply of Omega-3 rich fish oil can be part of the solution. See Barry Sears' excellent book The Anti-Inflammation Zone: Reversing the Silent Epidemic That's Destroying Our Health (Zone (Regan)) for a detailed understanding of what is going on with this type of chronic inflammation.
Muscles and joints
Fish oil has a long standing reputation for helping to maintain flexibility and suppleness of joints and muscles as we get older. Arthritic and rheumatic pains can also be alleviated by its use. This is just one example of the inflammation mentioned above.
I always notice the benefit on the odd occasion when I develop muscle stiffness or odd muscular pains. The problem disappears within a day or two of remembering to take a few fish oil supplements.
Ageing and the elderly
Fish oil has also been used with some success in cases of Alzheimer's and to treat or prevent memory loss in elderly people. This benefit of a fish oil supplement clearly needs further research as dementia is now reaching epidemic proportions in many parts of the world.
Fish oil can help relieve acne and other skin conditions such as eczema. It can also help keep your skin supple and young for longer.
Young people can benefit from fish oil too. It may help children to be brighter and to have fewer problems at school.
Youngsters who suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have improved after being given supplementation with fish oils. Some studies even show that fish oils may be more effective than the drug Ritalin in treating the restlessness and poor concentration which are the hallmarks of this frustrating condition.
A school in County Durham, England, recently trialed fish oil and other supplements with 120 of their pupils. The results were outstanding: the research showed the children's learning and behaviour improved significantly when taking the fish oil supplements. They were also taking Evening Primrose oil which is a source of GLA (Gamma Linoleic Acid), another type of essential fatty acid.
The children taking the fatty acid supplements made "highly significant improvements" in 12 out of 13 of the measurements of behaviour tested. These measurements included three ADHD features - inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Even their reading scores improved dramatically throughout the six months of the trial!
So perhaps one of the benefits of fish oil is that it can make us cleverer, if only because concentration is improved. Studies indicate that the modern western diet is far too high in saturated fats and hydrogenated fats. Taking fish oil can redress the balance a little. See the page on Evening Primrose oil for more on essential fatty acids and their role in health.
All the benefit of a fish oil supplement can, at least in theory, be found through eating fish as regular part of our diet. This was clearly the traditional way in which people would access the benefits of fish oil. Many people still include natural fish as a major element of their diet. Anyone who has visited the Netherlands and Scandinavian counties will be impressed by the amount of fresh fish - sometimes raw - on offer.
Fish is - and has always been - a great part of a natural healthy diet for many people. Stone Age cultures from around the world included fish as an important foodstuff.
Modern peoples such as the Inuit thrive on a diet rich in fish and fish oils.
The Mediterranean diet is now acknowledged by authorities around the world for its health benefits. Mediterranean people have always eaten a high proportion of fish in their diet and have benefited naturally from the nutrients it contains. Clearly, the benefits of fish oil can be derived from actual fish, however many areas of the sea are over-fished and pollution is an on-going problem affecting the quality of fish stocks.
Overfishing and pollution
Now we have a serious problem as fish stocks in many of the world's oceans are depleted from years of over-fishing. Many fish are also contaminated from pollutants such as heavy metals.
Many authorities now advise that we should eat wild-caught fish no more than twice a week because of the toxic effects of contaminants. How far you follow this advice will depend upon your own circumstances and your local conditions. Some waters are still relatively unpolluted but these areas are becoming scarcer year by year.
You can read more about the limitations of fish as a source of eco-friendly food here: The benefits of fish
One way to get the benefits of fish oil without eating excessive amounts of fish is to use a fish oil supplement as a regular part of a balanced diet. Fish oil supplements are generally far lower in mercury and other toxins than fish itself.
The main types of fish which contain valuable amounts of Omega 3 are the oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, pilchards and salmon. These are widely available but even sardines are coming under pressure. Some wild stocks may be more polluted than is consistent with health.
If you are passionate about green issues and want to eat fish responsibly you will want to buy your fish from reputable sources - or even source it yourself.
"Fish4life" retail sustainably sourced tinned fish products in the UK.
Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood is a great book on using all kinds of seafood in a healthy and sustainable way without compromising your culinary experience!
America's Favorite Fish Recipes has recipes for fish from professional chefs and anglers. It includes lots of ideas which will appeal to people who enjoy wild caught fish.
The benefit of a fish oil supplement:
If you decide to take a fish oil supplement then you look for organic fish oil as it is likely to be purer and less contaminated than many other commercial sources. The environment will benefit too from your choice. Fish which have been farmed sensitively, in unpolluted waters with adequate space are less stressed and disease prone and the wider environment suffers far less damage.
As the seas cannot be organically certified, it is not really possible to claim that a particular brand of fish oil is organic - unless it is from fish-farmed stock. In my view, wild-caught fish is likely to be better but you may also want to check that the fish oil you buy has been prepared without chemical processing.
Fish oil is available on-line and some manufacturers take great care to produce a top quality product.
Wild-caught fish from unpolluted waters are likely to be the best of all. We all have a vested interest in keeping our seas pristine and reducing the amount of pollution which finds its way to the remotest spots.
Most reputable fish oil brands work hard to ensure the purity of their products; avoid the cheaper supermarket brands which may not be so high quality and which will almost certainly rely upon chemical processing methods.
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