Fish oil does not sound too pleasant, and has echoes of ‘cod liver oil’. But actually, if you like fish, then it’s easy to cook delicious dishes with oily fish. Varieties that are particularly rich in oil are mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon and anchovies. If you are not too keen on fish, then fish oil supplements are readily available. In both cases, the active ingredient is the fish oil is omega 3. This has a broad range of health benefits.
Fish oil can help your brain function better. Studies have linked the consumption of oily fish to a decrease in the risk of an individual developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, it’s true that educated people also tend to eat more fish, and education also seems to be able to prevent dementia. If you are worried about the effect of aging on your brain, then consuming oily fish is highly unlikely to do you any harm.
People who suffer from depression of all sorts may also benefit from increasing their fish oil intake. Fish oil does have an effect on mood, and the theory behind this is that fish oil helps the brain to better transmit pleasure receptors, and it also helps to stabilise your mood. As well as helping with generally depression, omega 3 has also been shown to help women who are troubled by post-natal depression. Its use in combating postpartum depression is particularly exciting, as women who are breastfeeding are not usually advised to take antidepressants. Fish oil allows new mothers to nurse, but also treats their depression too.
Also, a relatively small study has produced evidence that fish oil can be helpful to those who are prone to developing schizophrenia. If young adults at risk of schizophrenia maintained a healthy intake of fish oil, then they were less likely to develop this serious mental illness than others who did not. Science is continually advancing in this area – if you are worried about developing schizophrenia and have a relative who already has the condition, then you should speak to your doctor for further advice.
Fish oil can help you to concentrate. This is useful if you’re cramming for an exam or reading for a thesis. The benefits of concentration are also linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Children with a low level of omega 3 in their blood are more likely to suffer from ADHD than children who have normal levels. If your child suffers from ADHD, then making sure that they eat enough oily fish, within the recommended levels, can have a very beneficial effect on their symptoms.
Remarkably, fish oil has been shown to have a role in the treatment of breast cancer. Omega 3 may be able to slow down the growth of cancerous tumours in the breast. Science in this field is still relatively basic. However, if you are worried about developing breast cancer, then a regular intake of fish oil will do you no harm – and has the possibility of doing a great deal of good.
Omega 3 also helps skin and muscles. It can have an anti-aging effect on skin, and keep you looking younger for longer. For athletes, fish oil can reduce aches and pains after a training session.
Fish oil can also help to reduce the inflammation and pains of arthritis. It has been medically proven that fish oil can reduce the discomfort of arthritis patients. However, for the best results, those who suffer from arthritis should eat oily fish in its natural form – for example, from grilled tuna steaks – rather than from supplements.
Fish oil can maintain good eye health. Studies have noted that fish oil stimulates the development of the eye system in babies, while they are still in utero. At the other end of life, omega 3 helps to prevent age related macular degeneration, which is a degenerative and largely incurable eye condition. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with ACM, then it may be worth consulting your doctor over taking a fish oil supplement. Similarly, pregnant women should speak to their doctor before taking any supplement, but should enquire about fish oil.
Fish oil is an anticoagulant – in other words, it thins the blood. This can be good news if you suffer from high blood pressure. However, if you are already on medication for blood pressure, or have been put on a anticoagulant drug as part of fertility treatment, you should seek medical advice before taking or continuing with fish oil supplements.
Fish oil is effective against heart disease, as it promotes a healthy cardiovascular system, promotes ‘good’ cholesterol and reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol. It has been proven that a regular intake of oily fish can be very beneficial for the health of your heart.
However, it’s not all good news. Oily fish contain a higher level of mercury and dioxin than white fish. This means that, if you get your omega 3 from fish rather than supplements, you need to limit your intake. Women of childbearing age – including pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding – should eat up to two 140g portions of oily fish per week. Girls, older women and men can eat up to four portions per week. Sticking to the recommended intake means that you will gain the benefits without increasing any of the risks.
One important thing to remember if you’re taking fish oil supplements is that the capsules can go rancid. You’re unlikely to notice this when you actually consume the fish oil, unless you someone manage to bite into the capsule. If your fish oil has gone off, you’ll notice an unpleasant taste in your mouth later on – sometimes metallic, sometimes fishy – and you may also end up with fishy breath.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of this happening. Firstly, good-quality fish oil supplements are less likely to go off, so buy the best you can. Also important is to keep your fish oil in the fridge, particularly in the summer. Finally, the effect can be reduced if you take fish oil before you go to sleep, rather than in the morning.
Fish fillets are a good source of Omega 3, which is perfect if you like barbecued fish. If finding fresh fish is difficult, then tinned fish are also a good source. Fish oil supplements are available from all health food stores and some major supermarkets. If you are a vegetarian, then you can buy omega 3 supplements that are derived from plants, rather than consuming those produced from fish.