Supplementation with fish oil has become extremely popular, due to researchers discovering, many years ago, that certain groups of people, especially those who follow a Mediterranean diet, are healthier than those people who don’t. The assumption was that their diets, which contained a lot of fish (maybe up to three times a week) was helping them stay healthier for longer.
There has been research to support the health benefits of fish, where it has been shown that eating fish is helpful in preventing a second heart attack, in people who have already had one attack. Fish is therefore seen as having some protective benefits.
However, the Mediterranean people also consume generous servings of vegetables, fruit, olive oil and whole grains, in their diet, so fish is only part of what they eat, and is generally served in preference to dairy products and meat.
Another very important aspect to their health, that wasn’t seen as being very important at the time of the research, was that these people are also very community-orientated. Their mealtimes are very social, and we know today that being involved in your community and enjoying your meals with family members and friends is good for both your physical and mental health.
However fish oil supplement manufacturers focused on the link between health and fish consumption, because it was an easy marketing message.
Fat is critical in your diet
Fat is the second most abundant compound in the body, with water being number one. Your body can make saturated and monounsaturated fats from carbohydrates. On the other hand, polyunsaturated fats and oils, also called Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats, are essential to life, which means they have to be obtained in your diet, as your body cannot make them. If you don’t get them in your diet you will be deficient in them. Interestingly, the human brain needs a lot of these Omega fats, with about 20% of the brain being made up of these unique fats.
Fish Oil ≠ Omega 3
Omega 3 is a family of unsaturated fatty acids, which have a number of very important functions to perform in the human body. Many people have come to think of Omega 3 as being fish oil, but this is not the whole story. The Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) family contains a number of different fats, of which DHA and EPA are very well known. Fish Oil contains DHA and EPA, but is different to plant based Omega 3’s as fish oil does not contain other foundation fats, which are also necessary for the human body. For more information visit:-https://www.magnoliawellness.ca/
A little more scientific detail behind the fish oil story
One of the reasons for the confusion about whether fish oil Omega 3 supplementation is better than plant based Omega 3 supplementation is because fish oil contains the derivatives of the plant based Omega 3 fats, DHA and EPA. A derivative is a by-product of the original item or compound. However, this does not mean that a derivative is unimportant. It is very important, and has other functions to perform, apart from the original compound. In the same way, the original, or foundation compound, the plant based Omega 3 fats, are also critical for health, as they also have very important functions to perform in all our cell membranes, as well as our cells, organs and tissues. So, we need both the foundation, plant based Omega 3 fats and the derivatives, DHA and EPA.
Can DHA and EPA only be found in fish?
People have been led to believe that the Omega 3 derivatives, DHA and EPA, are only obtained in cold-water fish and fish oil supplements. This is not true. They are also found in certain forms of algae. Furthermore, most people are capable of converting the plant based Omega 3’s into enough DHA and EPA, if they have enough of the plant based, foundation Omega 3’s and what are called co-factors, which are simply the Vitamins B3, B6, C and the minerals zinc and magnesium, which help the body convert the plant based Omega 3’s into DHA and EPA. So, your body can make the derivatives of the plant based Omega 3 fats, which are already present in cold-water fish. A small percentage of people do this conversion very slowly, and they may benefit from adding an algae source of DHA and EPA to their diet. (This topic is discussed in more detail further on in this article).