Fish oil is a common source of omega-3 in supplements. In this form it is one of the most popular dietary supplements in the world. This is because fish oil contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These substances are used by the human body for many vital functions. They are a precursor to eicosanoids. They make up the walls of most cells. They are vital in the production of prostaglandins which act like hormones within cells. They help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, enhance nerve cell function, and increase blood flow. They are also known to reduce the incidence of heart disease. Some have even hypothesized that low levels of omega-3 can result in depression.
Fish Oil Begins in Microalgae
These omega-3 oils are not actually produced by fish. Fish oil is originally made by the microalgae which serve as food for much of the smaller fish in the ocean. Consuming fish store the oil in their bodies. When predatory fish eat the smaller fish, they store the oil as well. Thus larger fish end up storing large amounts of oil from a variety of sources. The drawback to this is that they also accumulate any toxins that might get stored in the oils of the smaller fish.
How Fish Oil is Extracted
Fish oil must be extracted from fish for use by humans. This is done by first by cooking the fish. This frees the oil and water that is bound to the proteins in the fish. The whole mass is pressed to separate the solids from the oils. This is put into a centrifuge where the oils, as the lightest part rises to the top. The oil is then stored in tanks, while the solid materials are used to make fish meal. Most of the world's fish oil goes to feed fish in salmon farms, but much of the remainder is used to make dietary supplements for humans.1
The five major producers of fish oil are Iceland, Norway, Peru, Denmark, and Chile.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil is consumed by people usually in the form of softgels. The American Heart Association recommends that the average person take 1500 to 3000 mgs daily.2 This is the equivalent of approximately 2 or 3 gelcaps. The Heart Association website states:
"Randomized clinical trials have shown that omega-3 fatty acid supplements can reduce cardiovascular events (death, non-fatal heart attacks, non-fatal strokes). They can also slow the progression of atherosclerosis in coronary patients."
Omega-3 fish oil supplements can be found in most drugstores or where ever nutritional supplements are sold. Those considering taking fish oil should consult a physician especially if currently taking medication. It should also be noted that fish oils can contain some of the toxins accumulated by predatory fish. However, quality fish oil manufacturers have found ways to remove toxins.
- Production of Fish Meal and Oil
- American Heart Association Recommendation