Every day, researchers are finding more links between low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and certain health conditions. A recent study, done by Harvard University and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, determined that there were 72,000-96,000 preventable deaths each year due to omega-3 deficiency. Here’s how fish oil can be an important addition to your life.
How fatty acids work: There’s a simple reason why fish oil is thought to be so good for you: It’s rich in the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, required structural components of every single cell in the human body. The human body cannot make EPA and DHA, however. They must be consumed in our diets.
EPA and DHA work together, but each has its own unique benefits. EPA is thought to reduce inflammation, improve cardiovascular and circulatory health, and can be beneficial for those suffering with autoimmune or inflammatory disorders. DHA is important for brain, nerve and eye cells, and can support cognition, fetal and infant development, pregnancy and combat depression.
Fish vs. flax Research shows that flax is a less efficient source of EPA and DHA. While flax contains another omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), our bodies can convert only a small percentage of it to EPA and DHA. (Read more about when to choose fish or flax.)
Dosing: Remember that dosage, freshness and purity are keys to maximizing the benefits of fish oil. Fresh fish oil ensures that you get optimal results—rancid oil can cause free radical damage and may not be assimilated into the body as well. And pure fish oil can protect you from toxins such as PCBs or heavy metals.
For general maintenance, most practitioners recommend a daily dose of about 500 mg of EPA and DHA. The British Nutrition Foundation Task Force suggests as much 1000–1500 mg/day, the American Heart Association 1000 mg for those with documented heart disease and the American Psychiatric Association 1000 mg for individuals with mood disorders.