If you keep up with health and nutrition news, chances are, you’ve heard a lot about fish oil. We see headlines touting fish oil as the next great miracle supplement, able to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and more…then weeks later, the news is flooded with stories about recent research that suggests fish oil has no measurable effects on heart health, after all.
So, what’s the truth in all this? Is fish oil good for your heart, and if so, what’s the best way to ensure your body is getting enough of it?
We’ve fact-checked the research and summed up the findings so that you can make sense of the confusion and make the best choices for you and your health.
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Fish Oil is Good for Your Heart…Probably!
According to Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury who led a comprehensive review of multiple studies on the effects of fats on the body, fish oil supplements fail to provide any significant benefit on reducing coronary heart disease events such as heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.
However, many of the studies focused on people with existing health problems, measuring the effects of fish oil supplements on reducing the incidence of cardiac related deaths and other heart-related problems in patients who were already ill.
The study also evaluated only fish oil supplements, and not the effects of fish oil obtained from a healthy diet.
While the specific benefits of fish oil supplements are still up for debate, the positive effect of a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (which occur naturally in fish oil) on reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is well known.
Omega-3s increase the level of HDL or “good” cholesterol in the body which in turn reduces the body’s level of LDL, aptly nicknamed the “bad” cholesterol.
A 2011 study conducted by Michigan Technological University concluded that fish oil reduces triglyceride levels, improves blood flow, and slows the build up of plaques in the arteries.
Another study discovered that people with stents in their heart had lower incidence of heart attacks when given omega-3 fatty acids, the “good stuff” found in fish oil.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh conducted a study of heart disease rates in Japan, and concluded that heart disease rates are lower in Japan as compared to heart disease rates in the United States primarily due to their higher intake of fish oils.
Heart Health Isn’t the Only Benefit
The Omega-3s found in fish oil aren’t just good for your heart. Omega-3 fatty acids help the body build brain matter, control blood clotting, improve mental health, and otherwise support your overall health and well-being.
Omega-3s are important for a healthy pregnancy, and play an essential role in milk production for the lactating mother. Omega-3s can also help improve memory function, and some research suggests that an adequate supply of these fatty acids can significantly reduce mental stress.
And guess what? Less stress means a reduced risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular issues.
Choose Food Over Supplements
Fish oil supplements are okay if you’re unable to get enough omega-3s in your diet, but it’s much better to obtain your omega-3s directly from the foods you eat.
Oily fish such as mackerel, anchovies, herring, salmon, trout, and sardines are all excellent natural sources.
The average Japanese man eats about 3.75 ounces of oily fish each day. If you’re a vegetarian, you can get your omega-3s from foods such as flaxseed, rapeseed oil, eggs, and dark leafy greens like spinach or kale.
If you do choose to take fish oil supplements, be sure they are properly stored, kept in good condition, and not expired.
The fish oil supplements are often contained within a gelatin casing, sometimes referred to as a gel cap. These casings can become easily cracked and broken as they age, which exposes the contents to air and leads to oxidation.
When a fish oil supplement becomes oxidized, it may actually have a negative effect on heart health instead of the benefits you’re looking for.
Why Fish Oil? Why Not?
Despite contradictions in the findings of researchers aiming to develop a conclusive answer to the question, is fish oil good for your heart, taken overall, the benefits of fish oil are relatively clear.
Aiming for a diet rich in oily fish or other natural sources of omega-3s will provide support and nourishment for both your body and your mind.