Should You Eat Fish? Or Just Swallow Some Omega-3 Fish Oil Capsules Instead?

Should You Eat Fish? Or Just Swallow Some Omega-3 Fish Oil Capsules Instead?

By: Holly L. Thacker, MD • Posted on October 29, 2012 • Updated March 30, 2022

What are the Benefits of Omega-3 Fish Oil Capsules?

Alrighty, what's the beef? I mean, what's up with fish and Omega-3 fats? Recent research has again revealed that taking Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil capsules do NOT reduce cardiac deaths while actually eating fish does. After vitamin D supplements and multivitamin supplements, fish oil supplements are the next most consumed supplement in the United States. That adds up to millions of dollars expended by the public in the pursuit of a healthier body. Our bodies can not manufacture Omega-3 fats, hence the need for us to ingest these heart healthy fats.

I know ladies, it sure seems like our female bodies make fat very easily. That is in part because females need to store more fat to support childbearing and lactation. Hence, we have curvaceous, softer, and rounder physiques compared to men. However, there are actually two classes of fats our bodies (male and female) can not make:

  • Omega-3 fats
  • Omega-6 fats

Omega-6 Fats

Omega-6 fats, which most of us get more than enough of, are found in the following:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Poultry
  • Corn
  • Safflower oil
  • Evening of primrose oil

Omega-3 Fats

The exalted Omega-3 fats are actually made up of three fats:

  1. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
  2. DHE(docosahexaenoic acid)
  3. ALA (α-linolenic acid)

EPA and DHE Fats

EPA and DHE are found in the following foods:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Herrings

ALA Fats

While ALA is found in:

  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Cruciferous Brussel sprouts

Pregnant women and young children have to be careful about ingesting large quantities of fish that can be contaminated in heavy metals like mercury.

The Omega-3 fats help maintain cell membranes and aid in brain function. The ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats affects inflammation in the body. Too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3 can promote inflammation. Conversely, too much Omega-3 and not enough Omega-6 may promote breast cysts. Omega-3 fats have been used to treat postpartum depression (Now I know why I craved fish during my last pregnancy.) Omega-3 fats have been prescribed to reduce high triglycerides and some arthritic, inflammatory conditions. For those who have to take prescription fish oil capsules, I recommend freezing the capsules to reduce fish odor burping.

Do Fish Oil Capsules Have the Same Benefits as Food?

If you are taking fish oil capsules because you want to avoid eating a heart healthy diet, then you are simply swallowing extra calories without any gustatory pleasure. Importantly, there is no evidence that you are reducing your risk of heart attack and sudden death. There are the trans-fats or partially hydrogenated oils that you should avoid like the plague. Trans-fats increase heart disease and cancer risks. The mono-unsaturated fats like olive oil, peanut oil and the happy avocado are heart healthy fats. Tropical medium chain oils like coconut oil may also have some health benefits in moderation.

For maximum health, one should follow:

  • A Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and veggies, fish or Omega-3 rich foods at least twice weekly.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Maintain a normal BMI.
  • Move more, sit less, and ingest your nutrition through foods not pills!

OK, after I get done dancing around the kitchen with my pedometer on, I am going to grill fresh salmon filets topped with a caramelizing agave coating, mix up a fresh spinach salad, and for dessert... brownies with walnuts of course!

Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!

-Holly L. Thacker, M.D.

Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Thacker is also the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause. Her special interests and areas of research including menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health.

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