It’s no secret that fish oil keeps inflammation down and your digestion in check. But what you may not know is that its benefits can impact everything from city living and bone density to fat burning and brain power. Here are seven things you may not know about the benefits of fish oils and how you can go about ensuring you get enough each day:
1. Protect yourself from air pollution
Who knew that one of the many benefits of fish oil includes protecting your heart from air pollution? According to a 2012 American study it’s true. Twenty-nine healthy, middle-aged adults received either 3 g of fish oil or a placebo daily for four weeks and were then exposed to unclean air for two hours. Researchers found that those who took the fish oil didn’t have the same negative responses as those who only took the placebo.
Bottom line: Omega-3 fatty acid supplements offer protection against the adverse cardiac and lipid effects associated with air pollution exposure, which makes them a must especially if you live in the city.
2. Reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis
According to a University of Bristol study, omega-3 fish oil could significantly reduce the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis. Omega-3-rich diets fed to guinea pigs, which naturally develop osteoarthritis, reduced the disease by 50 percent compared to those who ate standard diets.
3. Reduce the signs of aging
Growing evidence suggests that telomere shortening (the DNA at the end of your chromosomes) can inhibit stem cell function and cellular regeneration causing unhealthy aging. A 2010 study uncovered a link between blood levels of fish oil and the rate of telomere shortening over five years, suggesting an explanation for the protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco studied more than 600 patients and found that the higher the blood levels of fish-derived omega-3 acids in patients with coronary heart disease, the longer the telomeres.
Bottom line: Adding fish like salmon to your diet at least twice a week is a great way to boost your omega-3 intake.
4. Improve fat burning
When Peter Howe and his colleagues at the University of South Australia studied the effects of diet and exercise on the body, they found fish oil supplements and exercise made for a powerful fat-loss combination. During the study, overweight and obese adults with metabolic syndrome, and a greater risk of heart disease, took omega-3 fish oil daily in combination with moderate aerobic exercise three times a week for 12 weeks. Body fat stores, particularly abdominal fat, were significantly reduced in the fish-oil-plus-exercise group, but not in those who used fish oil or exercise alone.
Bottom line: The insulin-sensitizing ability of DHA, the anti-inflammatory benefits of EPA, and the fat burning benefits of both make choosing a supplement containing significant amounts of each a good idea.
5. Boost brain power and memory
Researchers have found positive associations between fish oil supplements and cognitive functioning as well as differences in brain structure between users and non-users of fish oil supplements. Compared to non-users, fish oil supplements were associated with better cognitive functioning during the study. The unique finding, however, is that there was a clear association between fish oil and brain volume in two critical areas utilized in memory and thinking (cerebral cortex and hippocampus). In other words, fish oil use was associated with less brain shrinkage in patients taking these supplements.
Bottom line: A diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, may cause your brain to age faster and lose some of its memory and thinking abilities. Add it to your daily supplement list to keep your brain healthy through the years.
6. Preserve lean muscle
Supplementing your diet with fish oil may prevent the muscle loss that commonly occurs in cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy. The trial involved 16 patients who took fish oil (2.2 g of eicosapentaenoic acid/day) and 24 patients who did not. Patients who did not take fish oil lost an average of 2.3 kg whereas patients receiving fish oil maintained their weight. What’s even more interesting is that 69 percent of patients in the fish oil group gained or maintained muscle mass.
Bottom line: Remember, muscle is metabolically active and burns calories even while you sleep. Adding in fish oil will help preserve muscle, even while dieting.
7. Improve bone health
When it comes to maintaining bone density, calcium, vitamin D and magnesium shouldn’t be your only supplements. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is essential for optimal bone health. Researchers compared the effect of an omega-6 DPA and the omega-3 DHA in the growth of long bones in rats. The results showed that the rats fed the omega-6-supplemented diet had the lowest bone mineral content and bone mineral density compared to the rats fed the omega-3-supplemented diet.
Bottom line: The authors concluded that omega-3s appear to be a vital constituent of healthy modelling bone and maintaining bone mineral density. In addition to the above supplements, be sure to add in a regular strength training routine to prevent osteoporosis.
I recommend taking three capsules (or one teaspoon) of a high quality fish oil with meals twice daily for reduced inflammation, weight loss, healthy skin and these added benefits.
Note on contents of capsules: Each fish oil capsule is approximately 900-1000 mg. The amount of EPA and DHA can vary quite a bit according to the brand, but a good rule of thumb is to add the DHA + EPA and ensure it equals half, or more than half, of the content of the capsule. For example, in a 980-mg capsule, EPA + DHA may equal 500 mg in total. Depending on the situation, you may also opt for a different ratio of EPA to DHA. If your goal is to reduce acute inflammation (such as post-surgery), you may choose a capsule that is higher in EPA, whereas if mood/brain health is your goal (such as during pregnancy), you should select a capsule that is higher in DHA. These are often available in a 6:1 ratio.
Natasha Turner, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet, The Supercharged Hormone Diet and The Carb Sensitivity Program. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show and The Marilyn Denis Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
Get omega-3s into your diet by eating salmon. Here are Chatelaine’s favourite salmon recipes:
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Crispy salmon with dill pickled onions
This quick, colourful and crispy salmon is straight from Donna Hay’s cookbook, The New Simple. Get the recipe.