Four Surprising Reasons to Love Fish Oil

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You know that fish oil is a powerful supplement for heart health, but we've found four surprising reasons to love fish oil that may shock -- and delight -- you

You've probably heard about the health benefits of fish oil, a leading source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are an integral part of cellular health, comprising cell membranes and affecting processes like blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of arterial walls, and hormonal and genetic functions.[i]

Since omega-3s can't be manufactured by the body, they must come from dietary sources, so if you don't regularly consume sustainably harvested seafood like salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, oysters, mussels and crab, supplementation becomes vital to wellness.

Surprising Reasons to Love Fish Oil

One of the key reasons to supplement with fish oil is heart health. Omega-3s are credited with helping you maintain a steady heartbeat and safe blood pressure and with improving blood vessel function.[ii] They may also reduce inflammation, which can help prevent atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.[iii]

Heart support may be reason enough to add high-quality fish oil to your diet, but the benefits of this superfood don't stop there. We've researched and compiled four surprising reasons to love fish oil that are supported by science and make this fishy fat a winning catch for your health.

1. Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

Repeated exposure to even small amounts of common environmental toxins can take a toll on your health. Industrial pollutants in air, food and water are widespread and can accumulate in your body, making a diet rich in antioxidant foods vital for wellness. Fish oil has been scientifically validated to possess anti-inflammatory properties and may even protect you from the day-to-day ravages of oxidative stress.

Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) air pollution is significantly associated with increased risk of death and a host of health issues like heart disease, and skin conditions like atopic dermatitis, acne, psoriasis, premature aging and skin cancer.[iv] Past research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids exert a cardioprotective effect against PM,[v] prompting researchers to study fish oil supplementation for similar protective benefits against skin damage caused by exposure to this pervasive micro-pollution.

In a randomized, double-blind trial published in the British Journal of Dermatology, researchers tested the skin-protective effects of fish oil against placebo on 65 college students in Shanghai, China, an area with a high level of PM air pollution. Students met inclusion criteria prohibiting tobacco and alcohol use, diagnosed chronic diseases, regular medication, fish or fish oil allergies, and exposure to sources of indoor air pollution.

The 16-week trial consisted of a baseline assessment, which included skin samples and follow-ups at the eighth, 10th, 12th and 14th week to examine the skin for signs of inflammation and oxidative stress. Research has shown that even short-term exposure to ambient PM can cause these conditions in the skin.[vi]

Participants in the test group received two capsules per day of fish oil, while the control group received the same dose of a placebo. After a minimum eight weeks of supplementation to achieve a stable, biological-effective dose, researchers conducted the first follow up. Both groups continued to receive supplements through week 14.

After just two months of fish oil supplementation, and again at week 14, participants showed substantial increases in the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).[vii] Skin tests showed firsthand evidence that some adverse effects of PM on the skin, such as inflammation and oxidative stress, were reversed by fish oil supplementation.[viii] Researchers found that dietary fish oil supplementation can mitigate the inflammatory response and oxidative damage to skin associated with short-term exposure to PM air pollution.[ix]

2. Mood and Emotional Support

You may not think of fish oil as a go-to supplement for mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder. Prior research has shown that mood disorders are associated with deficits in the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA,[x] and evidence is emerging that suggests omega-3 promotes neuroplasticity and connectivity in the brain.[xi] Fish oil supplementation may be particularly effective at regulating mood disorders by supporting healthy brain network connectivity.

A recent study on the effects of fish oil supplementation on bipolar depression highlighted its potential benefit for treating mood disorders. Brain imaging has emerged suggesting that mood disorders affect the fronto-limbic systems both structurally and functionally and are characterized by elevated amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli.[xii]

This research prompted scientists from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, in conjunction with researchers at Huaxi MR Research Center in Sichuan, China, to analyze the role of omega-3s in emotion-related brain function in antidepressant-free adolescents with diagnosed depressive disorder and a biological parent with bipolar I disorder. Such adolescents are at high risk for progressively worsening mood disorders.[xiii]

Patients who met inclusion criteria took three placebo or fish oil capsules daily of equal size, shape and color. The fish oil capsules equated to a daily dose of 2,130 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA or 2,250 mg of omega-3 PUFAs. At baseline and endpoint, blood assays were taken and analyzed by gas chromatography, and 3D functional MRI scans were performed on the brain. Data, statistical and cross-sectional analysis were performed on results for 53 participants, with a total of 39 patients obtaining complete and usable data for findings.

At baseline, compared to the healthy control subjects, patients in the study exhibited lower EPA and DHA levels, less network clustering in the brain (a sign of healthy cognition), less global efficiency and lower connectivity strengths in the frontal limbic regions.[xiv] After 12 weeks of fish oil supplementation, compared with similar subjects in the placebo group, fish oil subjects displayed increased EPA and DHA levels, higher network clustering, higher global and local efficiency, and node centralities.[xv]

The study concluded that boosting levels of omega-3 PUFA through fish oil supplementation increases healthy brain activity through enhanced neural network connectivity, specifically in emotion-related networks.[xvi]

3. Asthma and Allergies

Another surprising benefit of fish oil may be for your offspring. When expectant mothers don't get enough healthy fats in their diet, specifically long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) like those found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements, research shows this may be a contributing factor to inherited childhood breathing disorders.[xvii]

A 2022 meta-analysis of previous randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluated the effects of fish oil supplementation in expectant mothers on the risk of asthma and wheezing in their children. While results were inconclusive, subgroup analysis showed that when expectant mothers regularly took fish oil supplements, their offspring had significantly reduced risk of asthma, but not wheeze.[xviii] In high-dose studies, maternal fish oil supplementation was associated with significantly reduced risk of asthma or wheeze in their children.[xix]

Allergies affect more than 50 million Americans annually and are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.[xx] Allergic rhinitis refers to a group of symptoms caused by atmospheric conditions like pollen, dust and pet dander that irritate the nose and may cause breathing difficulty.[xxi] While you may not think of fish oil when it comes to treating a runny nose or sneezing, the surprising fact is that fish oil may help make you resistant to developing allergies in the first place.

Published in 2007, a study of more than 1,000 pregnant Japanese women with symptoms of allergic rhinitis analyzed dietary patterns for intake of omega-3 PUFA from fish or other sources. An inverse dose-dependent response was associated with fish intake and allergic rhinitis, demonstrating that the more fish oil and omega-3 fats you consume, the less likely you are to suffer from allergies.[xxii]

4. Migraines and Head Injuries

It might be surprising to learn that fish oil may help protect the brain from migraines and the implications of brain injury. With the cause of migraines still unclear, finding a cure remains a medical mystery. But consuming a diet rich in healthy omega-3 fats may protect you against migraines and help the brain rejuvenate from the trauma of injury.

Prior research has shown that blood supply to the brain and hyperexcitation of brain neurons are factors in migraine headache pain.[xxiii] Magnesium taurate, a form of the mineral magnesium containing the amino acid taurine, is known to help lower blood sugar and blood pressure and plays a role in nerve health,[xxiv] among other vital bodily functions. This provided researchers with clues in the hunt for effective migraine treatments.

Published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, a study put forth that increasing magnesium taurate and extracellular magnesium, achievable through fish oil supplementation, could dampen neuronal hyperexcitation, enhance blood flow and stabilize platelets, and reverse other blood-brain pathologies associated with migraines.[xxv]

Incidents of traumatic brain injury (TBI) are common among professional football players in the U.S., a fact that has been gaining exposure in recent years. Researchers are exploring ways to reverse brain injury from traumatic impacts like those sustained by footballers and for patients suffering brain injury from substance abuse problems.

In a 2011 study, a six-month clinical intervention was conducted in an outpatient facility specializing in neuropsychiatric care involving 30 retired National Football League (NFL) players who demonstrated brain damage and associated cognitive impairment. Study methods included clinically supervised weight loss, if indicated, supplementation with fish oil (5.6 grams daily), high-potency vitamins and an antioxidant herbal supplement designed to enhance blood flow. Results were gathered using a combination of cognitive assessments and brain imaging scans.

After the six-month trial was concluded, brain scans showed increased blood flow in multiple regions of the brain, and cognition tests demonstrated significant increases in scores for attention, memory, reasoning, information processing speed and accuracy. Researchers concluded that fish oil, in concert with other interventions, significantly improved cognition and blood flow to the brain in sufferers of TBI.


References

[i] Harvard.edu, School of Public Health, Nutrition Source, Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/

[ii] Harvard.edu, School of Public Health, Nutrition Source, Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/

[iii] Harvard.edu, School of Public Health, Nutrition Source, Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/

[iv] Br J Dermatol. 2021 Feb;184(2):261-269. doi: 10.1111/bjd.19156. Epub 2020 Jun 28. PMID: 32333793.

[v] Br J Dermatol. 2021 Feb;184(2):261-269. doi: 10.1111/bjd.19156. Epub 2020 Jun 28. PMID: 32333793.

[vi] Br J Dermatol. 2021 Feb;184(2):261-269. doi: 10.1111/bjd.19156. Epub 2020 Jun 28. PMID: 32333793.

[vii] Br J Dermatol. 2021 Feb;184(2):261-269. doi: 10.1111/bjd.19156. Epub 2020 Jun 28. PMID: 32333793.

[viii] Br J Dermatol. 2021 Feb;184(2):261-269. doi: 10.1111/bjd.19156. Epub 2020 Jun 28. PMID: 32333793.

[ix] Br J Dermatol. 2021 Feb;184(2):261-269. doi: 10.1111/bjd.19156. Epub 2020 Jun 28. PMID: 32333793.

[x] J Affect Disord. 2021 Sep 1;292:319-327. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.05.086. Epub 2021 Jun 5. PMID: 34139404.

[xi] J Affect Disord. 2021 Sep 1;292:319-327. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.05.086. Epub 2021 Jun 5. PMID: 34139404.

[xii] J Affect Disord. 2021 Sep 1;292:319-327. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.05.086. Epub 2021 Jun 5. PMID: 34139404.

[xiii] J Affect Disord. 2021 Sep 1;292:319-327. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.05.086. Epub 2021 Jun 5. PMID: 34139404.

[xiv] J Affect Disord. 2021 Sep 1;292:319-327. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.05.086. Epub 2021 Jun 5. PMID: 34139404.

[xv] J Affect Disord. 2021 Sep 1;292:319-327. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.05.086. Epub 2021 Jun 5. PMID: 34139404.

[xvi] J Affect Disord. 2021 Sep 1;292:319-327. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.05.086. Epub 2021 Jun 5. PMID: 34139404.

[xvii] N Engl J Med. 2016 12 29 ;375(26):2530-9. PMID: 28029926

[xviii] Front Pediatr. 2022 ;10:817110. Epub 2022 Feb 21. PMID: 35265563

[xix] Front Pediatr. 2022 ;10:817110. Epub 2022 Feb 21. PMID: 35265563

[xx] American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, Allergies, Allergy 101, Allergy Facts, https://acaai.org/allergies/allergies-101/facts-stats/

[xxi] National Library of Medicine, Medical Encyclopedia, Allergic Rhinitis, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000813.htm

[xxii] J Am Coll Nutr. 2007 Jun;26(3):279-87. PMID: 17634174

[xxiii] Med Hypotheses. 1996 Dec;47(6):461-6. doi: 10.1016/s0306-9877(96)90158-9. PMID: 8961243.

[xxiv] Med Hypotheses. 1996 Dec;47(6):461-6. doi: 10.1016/s0306-9877(96)90158-9. PMID: 8961243.

[xxv] Med Hypotheses. 1996 Dec;47(6):461-6. doi: 10.1016/s0306-9877(96)90158-9. PMID: 8961243.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
Sayer Ji
Founder of GreenMedInfo.com

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