You have likely already heard of the buzz about omega-3 fatty acids. Research has link them to everything from decreasing arthritis symptoms and the risk of heart disease to making DNA stronger. Much of these findings are tied to the fact that omega-3’s provide anti-inflammatory properties, which helps protect the body from many diseases.
So which is the better way of getting your omega-3’s – eating fish or taking fish oil supplements.
Intent on finding this answer, a recent Australian study divided almost 30 people into separate groups – one that took daily 2000 mg supplements and one that ate around 20 oz of cooked fish every week for a month. Researchers measured the participants’ adiponectin levels before and after the 4 week study. Adinopectin is a natural hormone that is known to keep inflammation levels lower in the body.
What they found was that people who ate fish every week had 12% higher adiponectin levels at the end of the study. People who had only taken fish oil supplements showed no increase in adiponectin.
This is a particularly interesting finding since people with type 2 diabetes usually have low adiponectin levels before developing the disease.
The preliminary findings from this study seem to encourage people to eat more fish instead of taking fish oil supplements for the greatest omega-3 fatty acid health benefits. The researchers suggest that eating fish may be more beneficial because they also contain other nutrients such as protein, vitamin D and selenium.
However, consuming large quantities fish every week is not part of a typical diet – researchers from this study still think that people should also take fish oil supplements regularly for a higher intake of omega-3s.
Australia’s Heart Foundation guidelines recommend eating 15 oz of high-fat fish such as herring or salmon at least once a week. The American Heart Association advise eating 3.5 oz of fish twice every week.
Some people may be concerned about mercury levels in ocean-caught fish, as well as other possible contaminants. In a study of five popular American fish oil supplement brands, researchers found that “fish such as swordfish and shark are also a source of exposure to the heavy metal toxin, mercury. The fish oil brands examined have negligible amounts of mercury and may provide a safer alternative to fish consumption.”(2)
While omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to have positive health benefits, many people simply are not too keen on eating lots of fish every week – or swallowing supplements that sometimes leave a distinctly “fishy” after taste.
Fortunately there are other alternatives for consuming omega-3s. Walnuts are a good natural source of omega-3s, and flax seed oil supplements are another great source.
SOURCES: (1)Foran, S., Flood, J., & Lewandrowski, K. (2003). Measurement of mercury levels in concentrated over-the-counter fish oil preparations: is fish oil healthier than fish? Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, 127(12), 1603-1605.Australian Heart Foundation:http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/Pages/default.aspx;American Heart Association:http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/