Here’s why I always recommend fish and fish oil for good health
There’s no doubt that the omega-3 essential fats found in fish oil are good for the heart—as study after study consistently reveals their heart-saving benefits. And the truth is, omega-3s are important for all aspects of your health.
But over the years, there have also been what I call a “dirty dozen” studies on fish oil and/or omega-3s that failed to show these clear benefits.
How can that be? Well, first of all, as I’ve exposed before, all of these failed studies had one thing in common—they used doses that were way too low to show an effect.
Another problem is that omega-3 supplements are meant to be added to the fish oil that people are already supposed to get from eating seafood. (They’re called supplements for that very reason—they’re meant to supplement a healthy diet!)
So when researchers conduct studies without any knowledge of the participants’ diets, or without actually controlling their diets, they really have no idea what doses of supplements are really needed to be effective in the first place.
Unfortunately, this ignorance from mainstream cardiologists and heart disease researchers is often proudly put on full display and paraded in the mainstream medical literature—and it’s not going away any time soon.
I recently read a column by a cardiologist who said the heart benefits of fish oil supplements had solid scientific and medical practice evidence…back in 2013. But he’s looked “deeply” (down where the fish dwell) into the topic since then, and now takes his patients off fish oil!
But the truth of the matter is, what’s really changed since 2013 is that more and more solid evidence on the benefits of omega-3s and fish oil has continued to accumulate—while the mainstream inexplicably attempts to overturn the weight of this science.
Yet every month (or even more frequently), I see a new study showing the benefits of omega-3s for heart and overall health. That’s why I’d like to share an interesting new study demonstrating the immediate benefits of omega-3s for the heart…beyond their well-known long-term health benefits.
How fish oil keeps your heart healthy—even when it’s stressed
Researchers evaluated data from 13,912 people who had undergone comprehensive examinations at the Cooper Institute in Texas.1 (The Cooper Institute was founded by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, whose 1968 book Aerobics is widely said to have helped transform how Americans see exercise and its role in supporting health—for better, or for worse).
The ages of the study participants ranged from 20 to 80 years, with an average age of 50. Most of the participants were in good health, and blood tests revealed they had a range of omega-3s that was slightly higher, and healthier, than the national average.
They also had resting heart rates of about 60 beats per minute for men, and 63 for women. (Most data shows that heart rates of 72 to 76 are normal for 50-year-old people in the U.S. And generally, the lower the heart rate, the better your health.)
The participants underwent “maximal” treadmill stress tests, and their heart rates were measured at one-minute, three-minute, and five-minute intervals. The tests revealed that the people with higher omega-3 levels had better recovery of heart rates—meaning that their elevated heart rates returned back to normal more quickly.
The researchers said the exact ways that the EPA and DHA fatty acids found in omega-3s protect the heart after strenuous exercise aren’t fully known. But they did acknowledge that omega-3s show important effects on cell membranes, including the heart muscle.
It’s also worth noting that many prior studies on omega-3s have focused on participants who had heart problems and who may have been taking statin drugs (which are definitely not beneficial for cell membranes). So it’s remarkable that this new study found such strong benefits in people who were in relatively good health to begin with.
Quality matters when it comes to fish and fish oil
This study, along with years of long-term studies, clearly shows the benefits of omega-3s are real. In fact, the omega-3 DHA (which is a primary structural component of the brain, eyes, and skin) is so necessary to our health that if we don’t get it from its main source—fish—our body will manufacture it from ALA, another omega-3 found in plant foods.
Of course, eating fish also provides important proteins, fat-soluble vitamins like D and E, and essential minerals like selenium. And it’s widely recommended that people eat fish at least twice per week.
But my own analysis shows this is a bare minimum…and doesn’t yield optimal (or even adequate) doses of omega-3s.
Hence the need for most people to take fish oil supplements.
But a key point that’s often missed about fish oil doses is that they should be on a sliding scale—the more fish and seafood you eat on a daily or weekly basis, the lower your required dose. (See the sidebar for my dosing recommendations.)
It’s also important to note that the quality of fish and fish oil supplements are imperative. Because you only get safe and effective food sources and products when fish and seafood—and fish oil and omega-3 supplements—are properly sourced and prepared.
That’s why I recommend consulting the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector at seafood.edf.org, which rates a variety of species in terms of their sustainability, mercury levels, and omega-3 fatty acid content.
The bottom line is that when it comes to the health benefits of omega-3s and fish oil supplements, the only things to be skeptical about are diet, dose, and quality—despite what you may hear in the mainstream press.
SIDEBAR: My fish oil dosage recommendations based on diet
If you eat fish every day…
There’s no need to take fish oil supplements.
If you eat fish four to six times a week…
Supplement with 1 to 3 grams of fish oil daily, containing 400-950 mg of EPA and 300-700 mg of DHA.
If you eat fish one to three times a week…
Supplement with 4 to 5 grams of fish oil every day, containing 1,400-1,800 mg of EPA and 1,000-1,300 mg of DHA.
If you don’t eat any fish…
Supplement every day with 6 grams of fish oil, containing 2,000 mg of EPA and 1,500 mg of DHA.
1“Higher omega-3 index is associated with more rapid heart rate recovery in healthy men and women.” Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2020 Dec;163:102206.