Fabulous Fish Oil Findings: Part 1

A few weeks ago, I did a two-part blog series on triglycerides. I mentioned that omega-3 fatty acids are helpful in lowering triglyceride levels. I decided to devote an entire blog entry (or two or three) to these unique but popular fats, as friends, family members, and colleagues are constantly asking me about them.


Fish oils are technically called omega-3 fatty acids, which are types of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs, for short). There are two subclasses of PUFAs—omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Both subclasses are called essential fatty acids because the body can’t make them and must obtain them from dietary sources.

Linoleic, gamma-linolenic, and arachidonic acids are omega-6 fatty acids. Sources of omega-6s include corn oil, sunflower seed oil, and soybean oil. Eicosapentaenoic (EPA), docosahexaenoic (DHA) and alpha-linolenic (LNA) acids are the omega-3s. EPA and DHA are the fatty acids found in fish and other seafood. LNA is found in plant foods, including flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil, and is converted to EPA and DHA after ingestion.

Our bodies need both omega-6s and omega-3s, but the typical American diet is too heavy on the omega-6s. The ideal balance is 4 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3, but “Westernized” diets can be as high as 16 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3. A diet too heavy in omega-6 fatty acids has been linked to heart disease, certain types of cancer, and some autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.

So, what’s up with omega-3s, or fish oils? Well, if you keep up with the latest health news, it may seem like every few months we’re hearing more and more about how helpful and healthful these fats are. In fact, fish oils are so good for us that even the American Heart Association has jumped on the bandwagon as far as recommending that pretty much everyone aim to fit these oils into their eating plan. Let’s look more closely at what fish oils have to offer:

  • Heart disease: Several large population studies show that consuming fish on a regular basis (at least once a week) can protect both men and women from getting heart disease. Also, a recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that people who take statin drugs to lower their cholesterol levels along with a fish oil supplement have fewer heart problems, such as heart attack, sudden cardiac death, and unstable angina, than those just taking a statin alone.
  • Triglycerides: Consuming approximately 4 grams of fish oils each day can lower triglyceride levels by up to 30%. In addition, LDL cholesterol may be lowered by up to 10%.
  • Arrhythmias: Fish oils can reduce the frequency of cardiac arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat. Consequently, they can lower the risk of sudden cardiac death.
  • Blood pressure: Fish oils seem to play a role in moderately lowering blood pressure (but don’t stop taking your blood pressure drugs).
  • Depression: Supplementation with 3–4 grams of fish oils, especially EPA, has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression.
  • Crohn disease: Fish oils appear to have anti-inflammatory properties, and there’s some evidence that they can help reduce the symptoms of this inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: A handful of studies have found that taking at least 3 grams of fish oils daily can reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (another type of inflammatory condition), including stiffness and swollen, tender joints.

More findings next week!

Learn more about the health and medical experts who who provide you with the cutting-edge resources, tools, news, and more on Diabetes Self-Management.
About Our Experts >>

  • mendosa


    Thanks for dealing with this important subject. But I have some questions about the best source of omega-3 fatty acids:

    1. In season I prefer wild salmon as my main source, and I won’t eat any farmed fish. So at this time of year which is the best source? I use Carlson’s fish oil that is supposed to be free of polutants. Is that a better source than canned salmon, sardines, or herring? Note that most of these canned products have far too much added salt, but I use on the no-salt-added Season brand of each.

    2. How do flax seeds compare with (a) fresh salmon and (b) canned salmon, sardines, or herring?

    3. Are golden flax seeds better than reguarl flax seeds? How and why?

  • acampbell

    Hi mendosa,

    Thanks for your questions! I’ll actually address these in my upcoming blogs, so stay tuned!

  • Janice Massey

    I have just found out that I am diabetic so I am almost completely in the dark and could use any information.

  • Tara Dairman, Web Editor

    Hi Janice,

    You may want to check out our Diabetes Basics section, which is filled with introductory information about diabetes. Good luck!

  • Joe L.

    I’ve been a diabetic since 1992. I have it under control, my Doctors tell me. But now, I have an 8 year old grandson with Type 1, and I need to know more. Canyou enlighten me. I am not on insulen, but on Metformin. Thank you Joe L

  • acampbell

    Hi Joe,
    It’s great that you’re interested in learning more about diabetes. I’d suggest you look at the “Diabetes Basics” section of this website; in particular, there’s an article called “What is Diabetes?” that can help you sort out the differences between Type 1 diabetes (which your grandson has) and Type 2 diabetes, which is the type you have. Both types of diabetes are actually quite different, although much of the management is the same. Your grandson needs to take insulin to survive; he also needs to follow an eating plan, stay physically active, and monitor his blood glucose, among other things. You’re still making some of your own insulin, but need help from medication. You also need to follow an eating plan, be active, and monitor your glucose levels. Everyone’s diabetes treatment plan is a little different. The overall goal, however, is to effectively manage your diabetes in order to live a long and healthy life.

  • Shendrel

    Hi Amy,

    This is a wonderful post and insightful. The article covers the benefits offered by regular intake of fish oil supplements. I would appreciate if you could also cover some areas of fish oil side effect too.