What is fish oil? Where does it come from, and why do we need it?

Fish oil comes from the tissues of oily fish like trout, sardines, anchovy, mackerel, and salmon. Fish oil supplements are a dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids.

There many different fatty acids in foods, but the two omega-3s you hear about the most are called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

DHA and EPA are found almost exclusively in seafood. Our bodies cannot make them.

However, our bodies use this omega-3s for many things, including moving our muscles and growing new cells.

Fish Oil May Help Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is your body's way of recovering from an injury or an illness. Your system uses sentinel cells to look for trauma or invading pathogens, like viruses and bacteria.

When your immune system finds a problem, it pumps additional blood into the area to remove the invaders, which is what causes redness and swelling.

Inflammation also identifies and removes damaged tissues so healing can begin.

Inflammation is a normal process and part of healing and recovery; however, the problem is that sometimes, the inflammation system breaks down and becomes chronic.

This chronic inflammation can last from months to even years, which can be distressing and uncomfortable.

Fish oils contain long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs.) PUFAs can decrease cytokines. Cytokines are the messenger proteins your cells use to signal inflammation. PUFAs also increase your anti-inflammatory markers. (1)(2)

In fact, in some cases, fish oil has proved to provide as much relief from pain as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. (3)

For those suffering from inflammation, fish oil may make a difference.

Fish Oil May Support Mood and Brain Health

Omega-3 fatty acids also play an essential role in brain health. These fatty acids are necessary for the growth and maintenance of your brain and neuronal membranes.

They have also been shown to help prevent neurodegeneration in older adults. (4)

Recently, there has been some interest in the potential links between Omega-3 fatty acids and mood. (5)(6)

Though scientists are still studying the mechanics of how it works, it appears that fish oil's ability to reduce inflammation may also help improve your mood.

Several studies have shown that people who consume more fish oil have fewer problems with poor mental well-being. (7)

Chronic inflammation can feel terrible, resulting in flu-like symptoms. Alleviating these symptoms helps people feel better, which elevates their mood.

Also, fish oil has been shown to have positive effects on age-related issues involving learning and memory. Again, this is thought to be because of the health-supporting properties of fish oil.

Many adult onset memory and cognition problems stem from inflammation. (4)

Fish Oil for Heart Health

Physicians and clinicians have been interested in the benefits of fish oil for over 70 years.

In the 1950s, scientists discovered that the Inuit People had lower incidents of coronary problems, even though their diet contained high levels of fat and low levels of fruits and vegetables.

This finding sparked an interest in the heart-healthy benefits of fish oil. (8)

The two long-chain fatty acids in fish oil (EPA and DHA) are a part of cell membranes throughout the body. (9)

These fatty acids have been shown to lower the risk of coronary events and are even linked with a reduced risk of sudden death among people who don't have prior evidence of heart ailments.

Studies show that these fatty acids help clear cholesterol and triglycerides from the blood and help prevent cholesterol deposition in the arteries.

There have also been studies that show reductions in blood pressure in people who take fish oil supplements. (10)

How Safe is Fish Oil?

For people concerned about mercury in their fish, there is good news.

Fish oil capsules do not contain mercury.

Mercury is water-soluble, not oil-soluble, so when the oil is extracted from the fish, the mercury stays behind. However, other organic oil-soluble pollutants have been found in fish oil capsules. (11)

Contamination is why it makes sense to purchase high-quality, ethically sourced fish oils.

A high quality fish oil will also be sourced from small fish such as anchovy and sardine. These small fish have shorter life spans so they do not accumulate the toxins that other, larger fish do.

Poor quality fish oil supplements can cause:

  • - A fishy aftertaste
  • - Bad breath
  • - Indigestion and nausea
  • - Loose bowel movements
  • - Rash

Fish oil has numerous healthy qualities, but like with most supplements, it pays to make sure you are getting the highest quality product.

Fish oil should come from cold water, ethically sourced fish. You should feel confident that it is pure and doesn't contain contaminants.

The Omega-3s are part of every cell in your body, so you want the best for it!




Author: Dawn Highhouse 





(1) n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and inflammatory diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16841861

(2) Marine omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: Effects, mechanisms and clinical relevance. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25149823

(3) Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187

(4) Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA


(5) Inflammatory Proteins Predict Change in Depressive Symptoms in Male and Female Adolescents. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31341724

(6) Inflammation: depression fans the flames and feasts on the heat.


(7) Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Depression: Scientific Evidence and Biological Mechanisms

(8) Fish Oils, Coronary Heart Disease, and the Environment


(9) Fish oil supplementation: Evidence for health benefits


(10) Fish Oils, Coronary Heart Disease, and the Environment


(11) Measurement of Mercury Levels in Concentrated Over-the-Counter Fish Oil Preparations: Is Fish Oil Healthier Than Fish?