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What Is the Connection between Fish Oil and Cholesterol?

By Brandon May
Updated Jan 26, 2024
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Fish oil, whether derived from salmon, cod or krill, is a natural supplement that has been shown to be beneficial for a number of health-related conditions, including aiding the regulation of healthy blood cholesterol levels. The main connection between fish oil and cholesterol-lowering abilities lies in omega-3 fats, present in large amounts in fish and fish oil supplements. Most fish oil supplements, like krill oil or cod liver oil, contain an easy-to-absorb omega-3 fat that has been shown to directly affect cholesterol levels in a positive way. Since fish oil can increase the levels of good cholesterol in the body, while decreasing the harmful cholesterol, it is seen as a heart-healthy supplement.

Scientific studies on heart health and human cholesterol levels have shown that high-density lipoproteins, known as the good cholesterol, react favorably to the addition of omega-3 fatty acids to the diet. Fish oil is a rich source of easily absorbed omega-3 fatty acids and has been shown to increase the levels of good cholesterol in the body. Both fish oil and cholesterol levels are often studied directly in nutritional research focusing on heart health and its ability to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since high levels of the bad cholesterol, known as low-density lipoproteins, are sometimes responsible for heart disease, it is important to note that fish oil may reduce these levels in the body.

Often, fish oil and cholesterol research studies include data on the effects of triglyceride levels in the body and its relation to disease prevention. Triglycerides, also known as fats in the blood, are often examined alongside cholesterol levels, and high levels of these fats can oxidize, causing inflammation and contributing to heart disease. The majority of the data on fish oil and cholesterol shows that the omega-3 fats in fish oil can reduce triglyceride levels in many individuals. It isn't fully understood how the mechanisms of omega-3 fats work to decrease the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, yet many doctors agree that fish oil should be included in many diets.

Cholesterol in fish oil supplements is relatively low; however, consuming the low levels of dietary cholesterol in fish, accompanied with the omega-3 fats, has not been shown to increase heart disease risk. Although many nuts and seeds contain omega-3 fats, it is mainly in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, which the body has a hard time converting into the heart-healthy docosahexaenoic acid omega-3 fats. Vegan sources, however hard to convert to the more usable sources, are still healthy and also add a good amount of protein and fiber to the diet. Physicians and nutritionists often recommend fish oil and cholesterol-lowering medications for cases where diet and exercise are not enough.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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