Fish Oil is Key for Matters of the Heart
- Wednesday, 10 March 2010
With the departure of February, Cupid’s arrows are tucked safely away and lovers must wait another year until Valentine’s Day. But as we turn our backs to winter and gear up for a (hopefully!) early spring season, let’s not forget to carry the spirit of February with us all throughout the year. While all matters of the heart shouldn’t be limited to just one month of the year, when it comes to heart health, you definitely want to make sure you are keeping it top of mind year round. And while I may not be qualified to dole out love advice, as a licensed naturopathic doctor, I can say with confidence that when it comes to matters of heart health, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family is to make it a habit to take a fish oil supplement every day.
What are the health benefits of fish oil?
Fish oil contains essential omega-3 fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These omega-3 fatty acids are found in the oils from cold-water fatty fish. DHA and EPA are not only the most well known of the omega-3 fatty acids, but scientific research suggests that they are also the most important omega-3 fatty acids in terms of health benefits derived from fish oil. Some general health-promoting effects of EPA and DHA include reducing inflammation, optimizing brain function, improved vision, and overall disease protection. However, the largest benefit derived from omega-3 fatty acids is the role they play in supporting heart health—in healthy people and those already managing heart disease. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that all adults consume approximately 500 mg EPA + DHA daily and individuals with heart disease should consume at least 1,000 mg daily. In fact, research shows that taking fish oil can decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, which can lead to a heart attack down the road. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of plaques that clog arteries and can lower blood pressure. These are just a few of the reasons doctors world-wide are recommending omega-3 supplementation.
Is fish oil good for children?
Omega-3 fatty acids are best known to aid adults in the battle against heart disease—but they also have other benefits that are important for growing bodies. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential in proper development of the brain and nervous system. In fact, 60% of the brain is made up of fatty acids, some of which are omega-3s. During pregnancy a mother will preferentially pass her omega-3 fatty acids on to her child. The brain will continue to develop for up to two years after a child is born, so talk your doctor, or other healthcare professional, about how to continue to get omega-3 fatty acids into your children’s diet. In my experience with kids, it is rare to find one who eats fatty fish regularly (sorry, fried fish sticks do not count). Taking a fish oil supplement is a good habit to instill from the get-go because the benefits of these supplements are derived from getting adequate amounts throughout life at every stage.
Can fish oil be consumed from diet alone?
Fish oil is found in the skin of fatty fishes such as tuna, salmon, halibut and mackerel. Unless you are eating these types of fish three to five times per week, it is unlikely you are getting enough fish oil from diet alone, which is why many healthcare professionals recommend it in supplement form. Fresh fish can be expensive, and as a parent, I know it doesn’t always appeal to a kid’s pallet. Likewise, sardines and anchovies are also chock-full of fish oil, although if your kids are anything like mine, this is definitely not the ideal Friday night pizza topping. If that is the case, consider a fish oil supplement—they come in all different forms, including capsules, liquids and chewable gummies.
Is there a way to know if you’re deficient in omega-3 fatty acids?
If you’re not eating fresh fish several times a week, it is likely you’re not consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids to derive the full health benefits. There are blood tests your family doctor can perform to evaluate omega-3 levels in your body. One blood test is called the omega index test. Emerging science suggests that testing omega-3 fatty acid levels may be an important indicator of overall heart health. Some physicians have even advocated that this test be included in a regular cardiovascular check-up. Talk to your healthcare professional about whether this makes sense for you, and be sure to keep them in the loop about the supplements you are taking, including fish oil.