Purified fish oil, containing omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is one of the primary components for a healthy diet. Fish accumulate omega-3 fatty acids through their consumption of certain algae or other fish. In fact, the higher a particular fish is in the food chain, the greater the levels of omega-3 fatty acids. However, those same fish may also accumulate toxic levels of mercury, which can be harmful to humans. Consequently, purified fish oil supplements, especially those tested for mercury, have become increasingly popular for those individuals who want to receive enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet without consuming high quantities of fish.
Before delving into the benefits of purified fish oil, it must be mentioned that fish oil supplements have been critiqued in the past. There was a growing concern over certain brands of fish oil that had high levels of mercury and dioxin contamination. As a result, the International Fish Oil Standards was created to review the process of stripping the oils from fish. The purification process was then enhanced to reduce and remove toxic materials from the fish oils so that they fall below the limits set for consumption.
New studies are coming to light every year that indicate the importance of consuming fish oil, and specifically, capsules and soft-gel supplements. A recent study released in January 2009 in the Journal of Food Science, entitled Persistent Organic Pollutants in Fish Oil Supplements on the Canadian Market: Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Organochlorine Insecticides, took a closer look at thirty fish oil supplements sold in Canada over a three-year period. The study found that the fish oil supplements all had certain levels of substances that cause carcinogenicity and immunotoxicity – but the levels were considered acceptable for human consumption. More importantly, the study showed that the purified fish oil supplements were actually safer than consuming fish, itself.
Other studies have proven the benefits of enhancing the diet with fish oil are endless. For example, fish oil supplements may be beneficial to treat depression, especially when used in conjunction with an anti-depressant prescription medication. This may be because the fatty acids found in purified fish oil are important for proper brain function. In addition, research has hinted that those who suffer from depression may have low levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – but EPA is found in fish oil.
Preliminary study have suggested that when expectant mothers consumed fish oil supplements during pregnancy, their children had above-average hand-eye coordination by the age of 2 ½ than those children whose mothers did not consume the supplements while they were pregnant. It is important to find a purified fish oil supplement that has been tested for mercury, since it can be harmful if consumed during pregnancy. As a result of the fear of mercury toxicity, fish oil supplements are not routinely prescribed during pregnancy.
One of the most common uses of purified fish oil is to reduce cholesterol levels. It can also lower blood pressure and decrease the likelihood of blood clots. Many people who have had a heart attack take fish oil supplements to reduce the chance of sudden death. Fish itself has many beneficial qualities if it is consumed during meals, but for those who cannot stomach the high-fat fishes, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, lake trout, or mackerel, a fish oil supplement is the perfect option. In fact, an Italian study found that if a high amount of purified fish oil was given after a heart attack, the chance of having another heart attack after three years was lowered by 20% and those who were given the supplement before having bypass surgery had lower risk of arrhythmia and spent less time in intensive care.