What is Fish Oil? - Fish oil is the oil from fish. It has received a lot of positive attention in the last few years. With an increasing number of people knowing the difference between good and bad fats, more people are appreciating the many benefits of fish oil. Other than potential benefits for general health, fish oil also has potential anabolic effects. Where Does Fish Oil Come From? - Fish oil is the oil extracted from the tissues and belly cavities of certain species of fish considered to be "oily fish". Some species include salmon, sardines, anchovies, trout, and mackerel.
Fish Oil Benefits - The many benefits of fish oil generally stem from its high content of long chain omega 3 fatty acids. Two notable mentions include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are both essential fatty acids that we cannot make. Within the body they are converted to a group of hormones that have many beneficial functions. In essence, EPA and DHA are basically pro-hormones.
Fish Oil Benefits for Lean Gains - A group of researchers have found that the omega 3 constituent of fish oil has anabolic properties. It was found that protein synthesis in older adults increased after supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids for eight weeks (Smith et al, 2011a). The same effect was also observed in a group of younger subjects, which demonstrated an increase in muscle cell size after omega 3 supplementation (Smith et al, 2011b).
Fish Oil Benefits for Fat Loss - It has been shown that people receiving fish oil supplements saw significant reductions in fat mass compared to those receiving other oils. This effect was further enhanced when combined with exercise (Hill et al, 2007). These authors suggested that this may be because omega 3 fatty acids switch the body's preferred fuel source away from carbohydrates and proteins, and towards fat. This basically means that more fat is burnt more often.
Fish Oil Benefits for General Health - Other than the above two benefits of fish oil, there are still many other benefits of fish oil that are very well known. First of all, fish oil has been clinically proven to be able to significantly reduce blood triglyceride (fat) levels by 20 to 50%. In fact the FDA has even approved a certain brand of fish oil to be used as a treatment for high triglycerides (NIH, 2011). High triglycerides are known to be a risk factor for heart disease. Therefore, the reduction of such is beneficial for heart health.
Fish oil has also been studied as a treatment for many other diseases, some of which show a great deal of promise. These include high blood pressure, menstrual pain, stroke, osteoporosis, various forms of cancer, asthma, and psychological disorders (NIH, 2011).
Fish Oil Negatives and Side Effects - Fish oil is generally considered to be safe for consumption. However there are a few possible side effects with higher doses. This is sometimes a problem because for certain functions it does need to be taken at relatively high doses. In some cases, this leads to an unpleasant fishy reflux/burp. To overcome this, odourless and low reflux varieties of fish oil are available. Other potential side effects include loose stools, heart burn, and nose bleeds.
The omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil have a "blood thinning" effect. Therefore, high doses above 3 g may lead to increased bleeding and less effective blood clotting. If you are considering taking high doses of fish oil or other omega 3s, please consult a health care professional.
Although many species of fish contain high levels of omega 3s, it is important to note that the larger species are also likely to contain high levels of mercury. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can lead to serious health problems. However, this can be overcome by avoiding the consumption of high risk species or simply through using fish oil supplements (which do not usually contain any mercury).
Finally, fish oil supplements may not be suitable for those with seafood or fish allergies.
Fish Oil Recommended Doses and Ingredient Timing - The doses of fish oil used in scientific studies tend to be high. For example, 6 g was found to be effective for fat loss (Hill et al, 2007). However, as mentioned above, high doses of fish oil does come with some side effects. It is therefore recommended that the dosage should remain at or below 3 g/day. Fish oil can be taken with food.
Fish Oil Supplements - Fish oil can be found as a stand-alone supplement. It also sometimes occurs in blended fatty acid supplements and some weight gainers.
Stacking Fish Oil - Fish oil can be stacked with almost anything. However, it is important to note that the effects of omega 3s are antagonistic to that of omega 6s. In other words, too much omega 6 in your diet will negate the effectiveness of your omega 3 supplement. If you want the most out of your fish oil, it may be best to limit (but not cut out) your omega 6 intake.
Hill et al (2007), Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Am J Clin Nutr, 85: 1267-1274
NIH (2011), Fish Oil. Medline Plus
Smith et al (2011a), Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr, 93: 402-412.
Smith et al (2011b), Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clin Sci (Lond), 121: 267-278