Fish oil is one of the most commonly consumed dietary supplements.
It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for your health.
If you don’t eat a lot of oily fish, taking a fish oil supplement could help you get enough omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are 13 health benefits of fish oil.
What Is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is the fat or oil that’s extracted from fish tissue.
It usually comes from oily fish, such as herring, tuna, anchovies, and mackerel. Yet it’s sometimes produced from the livers of other fish, as is the case with cod liver oil.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating 1–2 portions of fish per week. This is because the omega-3 fatty acids in fish provide many health benefits, including protection against a number of diseases.
However, if you don’t eat 1–2 servings of fish per week, fish oil supplements can help you get enough omega-3s.
Around 30% of fish oil is made up of omega-3s, while the remaining 70% is made up of other fats. What’s more, fish oil usually contains some vitamin A and D.
It’s important to note that the types of omega-3s found in fish oil have greater health benefits than the omega-3s found in some plant sources.
The main omega-3s in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while the omega-3 in plant sources is mainly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Although ALA is an essential fatty acid, EPA and DHA have many more health benefits.
It’s also important to get enough omega-3s because the Western diet has replaced a lot of omega-3s with other fats like omega-6s. This distorted ratio of fatty acids may contribute to numerous diseases.
1. May Support Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Studies show that people who eat a lot of fish have much lower rates of heart disease.
Multiple risk factors for heart disease appear to be reduced by consumption of fish or fish oil. The benefits of fish oil for heart health include:
• Cholesterol levels: It can increase levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. However, it does not appear toreduce levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol
• Triglycerides: It can lower triglycerides by about 15–30%.
• Blood pressure: Even in small doses, it helps reduce blood pressure in people with elevated levels
• Plaque: It may prevent the plaques that cause your arteries to harden, as well as make arterial plaques more stable and safer in those who already have them.
• Fatal arrhythmias: In people who are at risk, it may reduce fatal arrhythmia events. Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms that can cause heart attacks in certain cases.
Although fish oil supplements can improve many of the risk factors for heart disease, there is no clear evidence that it can prevent heart attacks or strokes.
2. May Help Treat Certain Mental Disorders
Your brain is made up of nearly 60% fat, and much of this fat is omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, omega-3s are essential for normal brain function .
In fact, some studies suggest that people with certain mental disorders have lower omega-3 blood levels
Interestingly, research suggests that fish oil supplements can prevent the onset or improve the symptoms of some mental disorders. For example, it can reduce the chances of psychotic disorders in those who are at risk .
In addition, supplementing with fish oil in high doses may reduce some symptoms of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
3. May Aid Weight Loss
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30. Globally, about 39% of adults are overweight, while 13% are obese. The numbers are even higher in high-income countries like the US.
Obesity can significantly increase your risk of other diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Fish oil supplements may improve body composition and risk factors for heart disease in obese people.
Furthermore, some studies indicate that fish oil supplements, in combination with diet or exercise, can help you lose weight.
However, not all studies found the same effect .
One analysis of 21 studies notes that fish oil supplements didn’t significantly reduce weight in obese individuals but did reduce waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.
4. May Support Eye Health
Like your brain, your eyes rely on omega-3 fats. Evidence shows that people who don’t get enough omega-3s have a greater risk of eye diseases .
Furthermore, eye health begins to decline in old age, which can lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Eating fish is linked to a reduced risk of AMD, but the results on fish oil supplements are less convincing.
One study found that consuming a high dose of fish oil for 19 weeks improved vision in all AMD patients. However, this was a very small study.
Two larger studies examined the combined effect of omega-3s and other nutrients on AMD. One study showed a positive effect, while the other exhibited no effect. Therefore, the results are unclear.
5. May Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is your immune system’s way of fighting infection and treating injuries.
However, chronic inflammation is associated with serious illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, depression, and heart disease.
Reducing inflammation can help treat symptoms of these diseases.
Because fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties, it may help treat conditions involving chronic inflammation.
For example, in stressed and obese individuals, fish oil can reduce the production and gene expression of inflammatory molecules called cytokines.
Moreover, fish oil supplements can significantly reduce joint pain, stiffness, and medication needs in people with rheumatoid arthritis, which causes painful joints .
While inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is also triggered by inflammation, there is no clear evidence to suggest whether fish oil improves its symptoms.
6. May Support Healthy Skin
Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it contains a lot of omega-3 fatty acids.
Skin health can decline throughout your life, especially during old age or after too much sun exposure.
That said, there are a number of skin disorders that may benefit from fish oil supplements, including psoriasis and dermatitis .
7. May Support Pregnancy and Early Life
Omega-3s are essential for early growth and development.
Therefore, it’s important for mothers to get enough omega-3s during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Fish oil supplements in pregnant and breastfeeding mothers may improve hand-eye coordination in infants. However, it’s unclear whether learning or IQ are improved.
Taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding may also improve infant visual development and help reduce the risk of allergies.
8. May Reduce Liver Fat
Your liver processes most of the fat in your body and can play a role in weight gain.
Liver disease is increasingly common — particularly non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), in which fat accumulates in your liver.
Fish oil supplements can improve liver function and inflammation, which may help reduce symptoms of NAFLD and the amount of fat in your liver.
9. May Improve Symptoms of Depression
Depression is expected to become the second-largest cause of illness by 2030.
Interestingly, people with major depression appear to have lower blood levels of omega-3s.
Studies show that fish oil and omega-3 supplements may improve symptoms of depression.
Moreover, some studies have shown that oils rich in EPA help reduce depressive symptoms more than DHA.
10. May Improve Attention and Hyperactivity in Children
A number of behavioral disorders in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), involve hyperactivity and inattention.
Given that omega-3s make up a significant proportion of the brain, getting enough of them may be important for preventing behavioral disorders in early life.
Fish oil supplements may improve perceived hyperactivity, inattention, impulsiveness, and aggression in children. This may benefit early life learning.
11. May Help Prevent Symptoms of Mental Decline
As you age, your brain function slows down, and your risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases.
People who eat more fish tend to experience a slower decline in brain function in old age.
However, studies on fish oil supplements in older adults haven’t provided clear evidence that they can slow the decline of brain function.
Nevertheless, some very small studies have shown that fish oil may improve memory in healthy, older adults.
12. May Improve Asthma Symptoms and Allergy Risk
Asthma, which can cause swelling in the lungs and shortness of breath, is becoming much more common in infants.
A number of studies show that fish oil may reduce asthma symptoms, especially in early life .
In one review in nearly 100,000 people, a mother’s fish or omega-3 intake was found to reduce the risk of asthma in children by 24–29%.
Furthermore, fish oil supplements in pregnant mothers may reduce the risk of allergies in infants.
13. May Improve Bone Health
During old age, bones can begin to lose their essential minerals, making them more likely to break. This can lead to conditions like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Calcium and vitamin D are very important for bone health, but some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can also be beneficial.
People with higher omega-3 intakes and blood levels may have better bone mineral density (BMD).
However, it’s unclear whether fish oil supplements improve BMD.
A number of small studies suggest that fish oil supplements reduce markers of bone breakdown, which may prevent bone disease.
Omega-3s contribute to normal brain and eye development. They fight inflammation and may help prevent heart disease and a decline in brain function.
As fish oil contains a lot of omega-3s, those at risk of these disorders can benefit from taking it.
However, eating whole foods is almost always better than taking supplements, and eating two portions of oily fish per week can provide you with enough omega-3s.
www.healthline.com ( 13 Benefits of Taking Fish Oil) Written by Ruairi Robertson, PhD on December 18, 2018