Founder and currently Executive Editor of Science-Based Medicine Steven Novella, MD is an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is also the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of the NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr. Novella also has produced two courses with The Great Courses, and published a book on critical thinking - also called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.
Many people focus on the dosage of fish oil to take, like 1000 mg or 1200 mg, but it is the omega-3s that matter. This is where the benefits of fish oil are found. The two types of omega-3 fatty acids to focus on are EPA and DHA. These omega-3s are naturally found in oily fish like salmon, halibut, sardines and anchovies, and are the very reason why fish oil supplements have received such high praise.
DHA is one of the most prevalent fatty acids in the brain. This could partly explain why our brains do better with a greater supply. A Rush Institute for Healthy Aging study analyzed fish-eating patterns of more than 800 men and women, ages 65 to 94. Those eating fish at least once a week were much less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who turned up their nose at it.
^ Jump up to: a b Jensen, Craig L.; Voigt, Robert G.; Llorente, Antolin M.; Peters, Sarika U.; Prager, Thomas C.; Zou, Yali L.; Rozelle, Judith C.; Turcich, Marie R.; Fraley, J. Kennard; Anderson, Robert E.; Heird, William C. (2010). "Effects of Early Maternal Docosahexaenoic Acid Intake on Neuropsychological Status and Visual Acuity at Five Years of Age of Breast-Fed Term Infants". The Journal of Pediatrics. 157 (6): 900–05. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.06.006. PMID 20655543.
DHA is especially vital for infant and child brain and nervous system development, as well as visual function. In older children, high DHA levels have been shown to improve learning ability, while deficiencies have been linked to learning problems and ADHD. And in adults, some studies have shown that DHA helps protect against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Currently, there isn’t a set standard recommendation for how many omega-3s we need each day, but suggestions range from a fish oil dosage of 500 to 1,000 milligrams daily depending on whom you ask. How easy is it to get these recommended amounts? To give you an idea, there are more than 500 milligrams of total omega-3s in one can of tuna fish and one small serving of wild-caught salmon.
Fish oil is a concentrated source of omega-3 fats, which are also called ω-3 fatty acids or n-3 fatty acids. To get more scientific, omega-3s are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs. Our bodies are able to make most of the fats we need need, but that’s not true for omega-3 fatty acids. When it comes to these essential fats, we need to get them from omega-3 foods or supplements.
Walnuts are chock full of healthy fats — including omega-3s — and also contain a slew of other nutrients like magnesium, biotin, and vitamin E. Some studies even suggest that eating walnuts improves memory, learning ability, and motor development.1 Walnuts are versatile, too — try them with fresh or dried fruit, in salads, or baked into desserts. Get started with these banana walnut waffles — made with coconut sugar and unsweetened almond milk.
Soy can get a bad rap — and may indeed cause problems for people with certain food sensitivities — but this delicious bean is one of the most powerful (and versatile) ways to add omega-3 to your diet. Whole soybeans (known as edamame) are a favorite protein-packed snack for vegetarians; more processed forms (including tofu, soy milk, and soybean-based cooking oil) make soy infinitely more accessible. For some ideas, check out the 1998 classic, The Whole Soy Cookbook, which outlines how to cook with soy-based products ranging from miso to tempeh and beyond.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fish oil and certain marine algae. Because depression appears less common in nations where people eat large amounts of fish, scientists have investigated whether fish oils may prevent and/or treat depression and other mood disorders. Two omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — are thought to have the most potential to benefit people with mood disorders.
High blood pressure. Fish oil seems to slightly lower blood pressure in people with moderate to very high blood pressure. Some types of fish oil might also reduce blood pressure in people with slightly high blood pressure, but results are inconsistent. Fish oil seems to add to the effects of some, but not all, blood pressure-lowering medications. However, it doesn't seem to reduce blood pressure in people with uncontrolled blood pressure who are already taking blood pressure-lowering medications.