For the health conscious person today, fish oil is the first supplement they add to their nutrition plan.
There are some very good reasons for this.
Fish oils are among the most recommended supplements on the market for improving overall health. People have recommended oily fish as a part of a healthy diet for a long time, and recent research suggests that diets rich in oily, fatty fish promote longer lifespans (or at least longer “health spans”).
More recently, clinical trials suggest that compounds found in fish oil – namely DHA and EPA – are associated with improved cardiovascular health, better joint function, improved cognitive performance, and lower incidence of certain diseases.
But we’ve heard all of this before about dozens of so-called “super-foods”. Very rarely does it turn out to be true. How much of an effect does fish oil actually have on health? How does it work? Is it the best choice for promoting heart health? What about cognitive function?
Let’s find out!
Fish oil & heart health
Unlike with so many “health foods”, there is an enormous amount of clinical data supporting the claim that fish oil consumption promotes better heart health.
More specifically, there are plenty of epidemiological studies showing that DHA and EPA consumption reduces the incidence of heart disease.
For example, a study published in Cardiology in Review in 2010 found that consumption of high doses of EPA and DHA significantly reduced triglyceride levels; widely-used markers for heart disease risk. Amazingly, the researchers found that DHA/EPA consumption reduced all cause mortality by 29%!
If you want to look after your heart, then consuming large doses of DHA and EPA on a regular basis is a good idea!
Fish oil & cognitive function
Perhaps the most impressive benefit of fish oil is the fact that it can significantly improve cognitive function. Or perhaps more accurately, fish oil’s major benefit is that it seems to prevent cognitive decline.
There is plentiful evidence to back this claim up.
Researchers have consistently found that people with Alzheimer’s disease have far lower levels of DHA in their brains than otherwise healthy people.
This makes perfect sense. DHA is a fatty-acid and a primary constituent of your brain’s grey matter – the dark tissue of the brain made up of neurons and dendrites. DHA therefore makes up an enormous amount of the brain’s physical architecture. Without sufficient amounts of DHA, you can’t make any new grey matter, nor can you maintain existing grey matter.
But DHA’s effects on cognition do not end there.
Supplementing with DHA also has an immediate, short-term effect on mental performance.
Studies have found that supplementing with large doses of DHA improves several different aspects of cognitive function, from learning and focus to memory recall speed.
Of all the supposed nootropics out there promising to improve focus, perhaps none are as well-proven or as lasting as DHA!
Fish oil or DHA/EPA?
Most of the benefits of fish oil come from the DHA and EPA content.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that ALL of the benefits of fish oil come from the DHA and EPA.
So should you use fish oil, or should you use other sources of DHA/EPA?
EPA is found in lots of other foods, such as linseed, hemp seeds, walnuts, and kidney beans.
However, natural sources of DHA are limited to things like algae (which is where the fish get theirs from). Many people do eat seaweed on a regular basis (especially if you eat a lot of sushi). But most of us never eat any kind of algae. So for the vast majority of us, we only get DHA when we eat fish or when we synthesize it in the body.
NOTE: We do synthesize our own DHA. However, to maximize health and performance, it’s advisable to consume some from external sources.
But that doesn’t mean you need to use fish oil to get DHA. Today, there are lots of DHA supplements out there that use plant-based DHA taken from algae.
There are lots of benefits of using these plant-based DHA supplements over fish oil, not least of which is the lack of pollutants. Fish oil is usually taken from large fish like cod, which consume huge amounts of heavy metals throughout their life. Algae, however, does not. Fish oil may contain large amounts of mercury, while algae-derived DHA supplements will not.
What is the best fish oil supplement?
The best fish oil supplement is one that provides the largest dose of DHA and EPA, in the correct ratio, for the best possible price.
The very best fish oil supplement will also contain 0 pollutants and toxins – the kind of things you often find in standard cod liver oil.
Read the label carefully and do your due diligence before buying any fish oil!