For no apparent reason, I decided to have a battle with fish oil. Since I almost never eat fish and when I do it’s something bland like tilapia, I started taking supplements a few years ago on the recommendation of my favorite Chiropractor. But I decided recently that I wasn’t sure if they really worked and didn’t want to recommend them to clients if I wasn’t completely sold on their benefits. So that is the set up for my battle. But more on that later.
EPA/DHA (aka fish oil) supplements are given to ensure those of us non fish eaters (and most people in general) are getting adequate Omega 3s. Omega 3s are essential to our bodies and since we don’t synthesize them on our own, we either need to get them from diet or from supplements. (On a side note, Omega 6s are also essential but not in the volume the standard American diet provides. You can learn more about essential fatty acids here.) EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the main components of Omega 3 fatty acids and are primarily found in oily fish like mackarel, trout, and salmon. Since I eat none of these and have no plans to, I dutifully take two EPA/DHA pills a day. Omega 3 fatty acids are great for your heart and brain, reduce stiffness and joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis, lowers depression, helps with asthma, helps give great skin, and some studies are showing it helps with Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, Omega-3s are also thought to play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body — in the blood vessels, the joints, and elsewhere. Numerous studies have put forth the hypothosis that there is a correlation between inflammation and cancer so it’s probably a good idea to stock up on these Omega-3s.
So does fish oil live up to the hype? In the battle of Courtney vs fish oil, who would rein supreme? I was sure that with my lean build, good eating habits and healthy exercise regime that I would be fine. The first week I was. Body felt good. Mind felt clear. And then week two rolled in with one two punch, knocking me down. As I struggled to get up, my arms wouldn’t stretch above my shoulders, I got cramps in my thighs, my hips tightened, my knees locked and my ankles caved in. As the Ref leaned down to do the final count in my ear, I found myself wishing for a large serving of salmon combined with a hip replacement. In this battle of Courtney vs fish oil, fish oil won by a knockout.
For my vegetarian and vegan friends, alternative sources of Omega 3s can be found in some plants and nuts which contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Your body can break down ALA into the same two types of omega-3s that are contained in fish oils. Sources of this are flax seed, walnuts, and pumpkin and hemp seeds. You can also seek out supplements that are made from algae.
And of course, here is the disclaimer: I am a Health Coach and not a doctor. There are cases where you should not take fish oil. It thins the blood so anyone having surgery or has blood issues probably shouldn’t take it. There is mercury in a lot of fish along with other toxins so do your research and find out what your best options are. Talk to your primary care physician if you are unsure.
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About the Author: Courtney Abrams is a Health Coach and Founder of Roslyn Wellness. Trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she helps clients work within the realities of their day to day lives to find ways to make small and manageable changes to their health that can maintained over time. Her clients include people trying to lose weight, beat sugar, increase their energy, cook simple healthful food and reduce stress to name a few. She also shares a passion for food policy and educating people about the foods they are eating and the governmental role behind much of it. You can learn more about Courtney and Roslyn Wellness at http://RoslynWellness.com.