Dear Dr. Mo: I keep reading and listening about how fish oils are good for your health. I’m not really a fish fan but should I reconsider?
Dear reader: What you’ve been hearing and reading about is correct. Fish contains oils that are rich in polyunsaturated essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are also called a “healthy fat.” People whose diets are rich in omega-3s seem to have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Now, why is that?
There are several good things that omega-3s do for our bodies.
They guard platelets from forming clots in the blood and clots may lead to heart attacks and strokes.
They help to regulate blood fat levels and keep them within limits by raising HDL also called the “good cholesterol” and lowering triglycerides. This helps to prevent buildup of dangerous plaques on the walls of blood vessels, and plaques may cause angina and lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Another important effect they have is protection against dangerous and even lethal heart-rhythm disorders that can result in cardiac arrest – I’d even say that this may very well be the most important health benefit of Omega-3s.
The Omega-3s found in fish are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and these are also found in fish oil supplements for those who are not fish fans and still want to reap some fish-related health benefits.
The large body of evidence that fish oils are heart and brain healthy mostly comes from fish-eating studies but enough of evidence does exist to link such benefits to fish oil supplements as well. Naturally, I always recommend getting your nutrients from whole foods rather than from supplements as there are often many other nutrients in these foods, which are also good for the health.
In addition to preventing heart disease and stroke, omega-3s found in fish have also been linked to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s by helping to preserve grey matter neurons in areas responsible for memory and learning.
Eating salt water fish (i.e. Salmon) once or twice a week will also give you a good dose of vitamin D, which is important for our bone health, heart health, cognition and over-all strength (vitamin D deficiency among other things might make you feel tired and fatigued).
Fish will be fair to your skin and hair – the healthy fats in fish will prevent your skin from being dry and dull but rather stay shiny, fresh and well nourished. Your hair will feel the same benefits.
I suppose these several important effects, which I’ve listed here, could be enough for you to reconsider and try introducing fish into your diet – even once a week is shown to be beneficial. Of course, you will not do much for your health by just eating some fish unless the rest of your diet is balanced and healthy so aim for that first.
Yours in health