Fish Oil

While traditionalists have always raved about the health benefits of fish, new age research is only validating through numerous studies that the popularity it enjoys has a sound basis in facts, not beliefs. When we are talking fish, and its goodness for the human body, it makes sense to take a closer look at the leading contributing factor Ė the fish oil.

What makes fish oil so beneficial?

Fish oils contain the famous, by now legendary Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly two of its star attractions - the Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and the Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) both of which are lauded for a slew of health benefits. While EPA is said to possess beneficial potential in mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, and improving response of patients to chemotherapy, DHA was found to give relief to alzheimerís , and inhibit growth of human colon carcinoma cells. DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain and retina, and DHA deficiency is associated with cognitive decline. Fish oils are rich in both, particularly cold water fish or sea fish such as Salmon, Sardines, Mackerel, Cod liver, Herring, and Menhaden.

DHA is a major fatty acid in sperm and brain phospholipids, particularly in the retina. There is evidence that dietary DHA may reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing the level of blood triglycerides in humans. Studies have also established low levels of DHA with Alzheimer's disease. It is also considered helpful for premature infants and for healthy brain development in young children.

Can vegetarians access the same benefits as fish oil from alternate sources?

Yes. Fish do not naturally produce EPA, but obtain it from the algae they consume. You can get benefits of EPA from non-animal sources such as Spirulina and microalgae. Presently, there is increasing interest in microalgae and supplements derived from it as a commercial source of both vegetarian EPA and DHA.

If you donít have fish, what else can you eat to get the same benefits as fish?

Microalgae, and supplements derived from it, are excellent alternative sources of EPA and other fatty acids, since fish often contain toxins due to pollution. Fish do not naturally produce EPA, but in turn obtain it from the algae they consume. Itís a great choice for vegetarians too.

Why do we need DHA and EPA fish oil supplements?

It is being increasingly understood that there is less DHA available in the average diet than earlier, as cattle are increasingly fed more on grains before butchering instead of grass and with intensive farming practices with regards to eggs as well. Advance practices in mass production seem to have disrupted the nutritional value of the food we eat.

Is eating fish oil supplements as beneficial as eating fish?

Doctors and experts mostly agree that fish oil supplements are not as good as eating fish. In 2006, the American Heart Association recommended eating fish (especially the cold water variety Ė Mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon) at least two times a week. However, they do not recommend supplements if you donít have a history of heart disease and have consulted your physician. The UC Berkeley Wellness Center also says that "We recommend fish, but not fish oil capsules, except for those with heart disease or auto-immune disorders."