Where it comes from: Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids and is derived from the tissues of fatty, cold-water ocean fish such as tuna, cod liver and salmon. It was first used during the late 1700s in fishing communities surrounding the Northern Atlantic Ocean to treat infections and sickness. In those times, patients would simply eat cod liver soaked between two pieces of bread. In the 1800s, a steaming process was developed, making the pungent taste (read: disgusting) slightly more bearable.
Today, the oil is manufactured into pill form, offering a much more pleasant way to ingest a dosage. But experts still agree that consuming fish is give you better benefits than simply taking a pill. “Omega-3 fatty acids are best sourced through food,” says registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association spokesperson Jim White. “Evidence is stronger for the benefits of eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids compared with using supplements.”
White—and experts across the board—suggests fishy meals of salmon, mackerel, cod, trout and tuna, as they’re high in omega-3s while they also have low levels of mercury content. Other dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, canola oil, soybeans, pumpkin
The list of benefits is plentiful. In fact, the National Institute of Health lists fish oil and other omega-3 fatty acids as being helpful in treating or preventing 37 conditions. Here, some of the most noteworthy:
1. Promotes heart health
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health calculated that eating about two grams per week of omega-3 fatty acids (equal to one or two servings of fatty fish) reduces the chances of dying from heart disease by more than one-third. Omega-3 fats protect the heart against the development of erratic cardiac rhythm disturbances, help break up blood clots and lower cholesterol, tryglicerides, LDLs and blood pressure. The fats also increase good HDL cholesterol.
2. Protects against cancer
Studies have found that fish oil can help prevent three of the most common forms of cancer: breast, colon, and prostate. The fatty acids stop the alteration of a normal healthy cell to that of a cancerous mass and cause the death of some cancer cells. Researchers are currently digging deeper to see how fish oil can play a larger role in cancer survival and prevention.
3.Improves Mental Health
Researchers at the University of Sheffield have found that fish oil supplements can alleviate the symptoms of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. On a seemingly related note, a Chinese study of 100 suicide-attempt cases found diets low in fishy meals to be a common factor. Other studies report that depressed patients who take omega-3 fatty acids in addition to prescription antidepressants had a great improvement in symptoms than those who took antidepressants alone.