The human body needs fatty acids
and it can make all but two of them: linoleic acid (
omega-6 fatty acid
) and linolenic acid (
omega-3 fatty acid
). Given linolenic acid, the body can make the 20- and 22-carbon members of the omega-3 series, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely critical for normal growth and development and they play a very important role in the prevention and treatment of diseases. It should be noted, however, that only a small amount of linolenic acid is converted to DHA and linolenic acid does not raise blood DHA levels. One of the primary reasons linolenic acid is so poorly converted to EPA and DHA is that it is mostly used for energy.
Fish, especially oily species like mackerel, lake trout, herring and sardines, provide significant amounts of EPA and DHA. A growing body of evidence indicates that these fatty acids can help:
It is very important to realize that only omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil have cardio-protective properties.
- decrease risk for arrhythmias (an alteration in rhythm of the heartbeat), which can lead to sudden cardiac death.
- decrease risk for thrombosis (the formation or presence of a blood clot within a blood vessel), which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
- decrease triglyceride and remnant lipoprotein levels.
- decrease the rate of growth of atherosclerotic plaque.
- improve endothelial function.
- reduce inflammatory responses.
A systematic review, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that "increased consumption of [omega-3 fatty acids] from fish or
, but not of [linolenic acid], reduces the rates of all-cause mortality, cardiac and sudden death, and possibly stroke."
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Athletic Performance
Omega-3 fatty acids have been suggested to be ergogenic (performance-enhancing), not because of their energy content, but because they may elicit favorable physiological effects relative to several types of physical performance. Omega-3 fatty acids can be incorporated into the membrane of red blood cells, making these cells less viscous and less resistant to flow. Less viscous red blood cells and the vasodilative effect may enhance blood flow, facilitating the delivery of blood and thus oxygen and nutrients to the muscle. Another theory is based on the role of certain eicosanoids (by-products of omega-3 fatty acids), which may stimulate the release of growth hormone.
A study by Dr. Derek Huffman and colleagues at the University of Missouri, Columbia, examined the effect of an acute high dose and a chronic low dose of fish oil on fat oxidation (burning) during exercise. The acute high dose fish oil had no significant effect on fat use during exercise. In contrast, chronic supplementation significantly augmented total fat energy expenditure. The study suggests that by increasing fat use during exercise chronic fish oil supplementation may have some ergogenic and fat loss benefits.
Furthermore, recent data suggest that
fish oil supplementation
has a markedly protective effect in suppressing exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (constriction of the bronchial air passages) in elite athletes, and this may be attributed to their anti-inflammatory properties.
Other Benefits of Fish Oil
Studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids have benefits in rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and immunoglobulin A nephropathy. Also, there is compelling evidence that diets high in fish oil may protect against the development of Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer.
Fish Oil Supplement-Related Nonsense
A poorly written nutrition textbook, misleadingly titled Understanding Nutrition, claims that "Fish oil supplements are not recommended for a number of reasons... Fish oil supplements are made from fish skin and livers, which may contain environmental contaminants."4 This statement is utter nonsense. Fish oil capsules contain no mercury. Mercury is water-soluble, not oil-soluble, so when the oil is extracted from the fish, the mercury (and other heavy metals) stays behind in the fish meat. Organic pollutants are potentially another concern. However, fish oil concentrates, the most commonly used supplements, are not derived from the liver of fish, but from the muscle, and so they are lower in pollutants than liver oils.1 Consumer Reports wrote, "Our tests of 16 top-selling fish-oil supplements were reassuring: All those pills contained roughly as much EPA and DHA as their labels promised. None showed evidence of spoilage, and none contained significant amounts of mercury, the worrisome PCBs, or dioxin."
ProSource Omega-1250 - The Number 1 Source for EPA and DHA
contains a whopping 450 milligrams of EPA and 300 milligrams of DHA of from the highest-quality deep sea cold water source per softgel capsule, making it the number 1 source for this heart-healthy nutrient. As the regular fish oil capsules dissolve in the stomach and release the oil, many people experience a "fishy burp." Fortunately, Omega-1250 has a natural lemon flavor minimizing or even eliminating this problem. I take two capsules of
every day and I have never had any problems with fishy burps.
A Sample Supplementation Program for Cardio-Protection
Consult a licensed healthcare professional before starting this supplementation program if you are taking any medication, or if you have any medical condition.
*A recent study indicated that lycopene supplemenentation also protects muscle tissue from oxidative stress after exhaustive exercise (Br J Nutr. 2005 Oct;94(4):595-601).
About Anssi Manninen
Anssi Manninen holds an M.H.S. in sports medicine from the University of Kuopio Medical School. His numerous cutting-edge articles in Muscular Development firmly established his reputation as a leading authority on hard-core sports nutrition. Anssi?s articles have also been published in scientific journals, including The
British Journal of Sports Medicine, The Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, Nutrition & Metabolism,
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
. Anssi is also an Associate Editor for
Nutrition & Metabolism
, a leading scientific journal in the area of nutritional biochemistry.
Harris WS. Fish oil supplementation: evidence for health benefits. Cleve Clin J Med. 2004 Mar;71(3):208-10, 212, 215-8 passim.
Harris WS. Are omega-3 fatty acids the most important nutritional modulators of coronary heart disease risk? Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2004 Nov;6(6):447-52.
Gebauer SK et al. n-3 fatty acid dietary recommendations and food sources to achieve essentiality and cardiovascular benefits. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun;83(6 Suppl):1526S-1535S.
Harris WS, Bulchhandani D. Why do omega-3 fatty acids lower serum triglycerides? Curr Opin Lipidol. 2006 Aug;17(4):387-93.
Richardon AJ. Omega-3 fatty acids in ADHD and related neurodevelopmental disorders. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2006 Apr;18(2):155-72.
Wancg C et al. n-3 Fatty acids from fish or fish-oil supplements, but not alpha-linolenic acid, benefit cardiovascular disease outcomes in primary- and secondary-prevention studies: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jul;84(1):5-17.
Huffman DM, Michaelson JL, Thomas TR. Chronic supplementation with fish oil increases fat oxidation during exercise in young men. J Exerc Physiol 2004;7:48-56.
Mickleborough TD et al. Protective effect of fish oil supplementation on exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in asthma. Chest. 2006 Jan;129(1):39-49.