Question and answer: All about fish oil

Fish oil: What\'s it really all about? Health and fitness expert Josef Brandenburg explains the supplement and its potential benefits. (Thinkstock)

By Josef Brandenburg
WTOP Fitness Contributor

WASHINGTON — Fish oil is a popular supplement that’s long been touted and studied for its possible health benefits.

The National Institutes of Health says fish oil can be obtained from a wide variety of fish, including mackerel, tuna, anchovies and sardines, as well as cod liver and even whale blubber.

Some studies show benefits to the heart while others indicate too much can increase stroke risk.

Q: What is the difference between omega-3 vitamins and fish oil?

A: Fish oil is naturally rich in omega-3s which is a kind of essential fatty acid (EFA). It’s called “essential” because you can’t make your own and you need to obtain it through your diet. (If you want to be technical, omega-3s aren’t vitamins.)

Q: How does fish oil work?

A: The main reason to take fish oil is because it can help reduce inflammation. Reducing inflammation can help with weight loss and improve your skin. It also seems to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.

When fish oil works, it’s because it helps to balance out the EFAs in your diet. For our purposes, let’s say that there are just two — omega-6s and omega-3s. Modern diets are often really high in 6s because we eat so much processed vegetable oil, grain and factory farmed meat. This imbalance seems to produce extra inflammation. Balancing your 6s and 3s seems to help undo that.

Q: How do I take fish oil?

A: It’s important to keep in mind that adding fish oil to a diet with a lot of processed food will not fix or balance the diet. Fish oil is a supplement, which means it’s the extra on top of your good diet. Most importantly you should: (1) try to get your carbs mostly from fruits and vegetables, (2) buy more grass-fed beef and (3) use olive oil, coconut oil and butter instead of corn, canola or soybean oil.

Suggestion: 2,000 mg per day (most fish oil comes in 1,000 mg pills, so two pills, unless the package or your doctor tells you otherwise).

What do I look for in fish oil?

A: It should not smell fishy, nor should it give you fish burps. These are red flags that this fish oil has gone bad (or was always bad). Always store fish oil in your fridge; this keeps it fresh. Lastly, don’t shop by price alone. If you buy the cheapest stuff you can find, you will get exactly what you paid for.

Which vitamins should I take with fish oil?

A: When it comes to vitamins, less is more. Supplements are there to supplement a good diet; you can’t take enough pills to get all of your nutrition. Besides fish oil, the next two most important things to take are vitamin D and a moderate multi-vitamin. Vitamin D is important for bone health, immune function, insulin sensitivity (so might help with weight loss) and more.

Remember: Focus on food.

Editor’s Note: Josef Brandenburg is a D.C.area fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book “Results Fitness.” In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the available time you have. You can also check out his blog, follow him on Twitter, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube.

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