Do Fish Oil Supplements Actually Work?

Spend a little time online reading up on nutrition and you might encounter a flurry of different opinions (and self-assured headlines) about the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of fish oil supplements, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Some say these supplements are a “Fountain of Youth,” while others suspiciously accuse them of being the “new snake oil.”  

So what’s the deal here? Are those fish oil pills working for you – boosting your wellbeing – or are they pretty useless?

Like many areas of human health, the answer here isn’t entirely clear-cut. Nutrition is complex, and scientific research doesn’t always move as fast as we’d like. Still, scientific research on fish oil supplements does exist, and sheds some light on this question.

One Proven Health Effect of Fish Oil Supplementation

Whether fish oil supplements are “elixirs of youth” is up for debate, but we do know that consuming fish oil supplements elevates your Omega-3 Index. The Omega-3 Index refers to the amount of DHA and EPA in your blood (expressed as a percentage). Both DHA and EPA are forms of omega-3 – so the higher your Omega-3 Index, the more omega-3 you’ve got in your body.

Research studies have repeatedly shown that a higher Omega-3 Index is associated with numerous health benefits, including cardioprotection. Since most people in the United States don’t consume enough omega-3, their Omega-3 Index is far too low. So if you have an omega-3 deficiency (find out if you do with EverlyWell’s Omega-3 Basic Test), fish oil supplements can help get your Omega-3 Index to where it should be. Omega-3 is a very crucial nutrient that your body depends on, and fish oil supplements are a proven way to prop up your omega-3 levels.

But What About All Those Contradictory Claims About Fish Oil Supplements?

So if fish oil supplements raise your Omega-3 Index – which is generally a positive thing – what’s all the fuss about? The controversy arises when the health-enhancing power of fish oil is overstated. Some claims about fish oil seem to imply that those gold-hued gel caps you’re downing can fix just about every health problem. This, obviously, is scientifically inaccurate.

However, many studies do show that fish oil supplementation offers various health benefits – such as improvements in symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and dementia. On the other hand, critics of fish oil pills point to studies like this one, which showed no positive cognitive benefits of supplementation in adults.

Why this contradictory mix of research results? First off, these studies often involve trials with different amounts of fish oil supplementation. Also, they don’t always look at the same population samples: some studies research the effects of DHA levels on infants, while others specifically focus on individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Adding even more tangles to this already knotty situation is the fact that not all population samples will have the same dietary habits – and nutritional patterns affect the way fish oil supplements impact health.

There’s another issue, too: fish oil supplements don’t all have the same quality – some may easily go bad (due to oxidation) compared to others. (So, as you may have figured out, since not all studies use the same kinds of fish oil, there can be conflicting results.)

Fortunately, despite all this, there are a few things you can do to maximize the health benefits of fish oil supplements.

How You Can Maximize the Health Benefits of Fish Oil Supplementation

Here’s what you can do to get the most out of your fish oil:

  • Choose the highest quality brands. Fish oil supplements can oxidize easily – which isn’t good for your health – so choose a brand of fish oil that has a very good reputation. (Fish oil can oxidize at various phases of its preparation for consumer use, but high-quality brands will proactively seek to eliminate sources of oxidation.)
  • Improve your nutrition. When your nutrition is optimized, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can synergize well with other nutrients – increasing the effectiveness of the supplement. So take steps to improve your nutrition. This will look different for everyone, but – as a starting point – make sure you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables, and not consuming too much saturated fat.
  • Take your fish oil with antioxidants. Because fish oil supplements do have that pesky tendency to oxidize, it’s best if you take them with antioxidants (such as blueberries and turmeric).  

Conclusion

Fish oil supplements are surrounded by both hype and criticism. While fish oil consumption is no cure-all, it does improve your Omega-3 Index – a major point in its favor in today’s world where so many people lack adequate amounts of omega-3.

And the first step towards optimizing your own Omega-3 Index? Gather personalized insights on your health by checking where your omega-3 levels are at, so you know if you’re getting enough of this nutrient in your diet. Checking your Omega-3 Index is easy – just use an at-home test like EverlyWell’s Omega-3 Basic.

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