The recent nutrition talk went well but it probably opened the door for more questions. What I ultimately wanted to get across is that there is no one correct way to manage your diet. I also wanted to put across the idea of self awareness and that no two people are alike and will respond differently to different diets – body composition, lifestyle, exercise levels, allergies, genealogy, stress & digestion all being factors. Increased self awareness is the gateway to an advanced level – take the time and effort to ‘experiment’. Trial and error, note the before and after.
Going forward I am going to write articles on nutrition and today I will start with Fish Oil.
Fish oil supplementation is very much in vogue and has been touted as the most important supplement around (until the Vitamin D3 fanatics burst onto the scene in 2009). It is no secret I do not come from a scientific background, it is definitely ‘time spent in the trenches’ but I have been blessed with an ability to source out, read and discern useful information from some pretty knowledgeable folks, put their ideas into practice and view the results.
With the Crossfit boom in the last few years and all things paleo, fish oils became hot property. It makes plenty of sense – in an age when our diets are severely lacking in Omega-3, we can do with the additional help of supplements – enter fish oils.
So what is Omega-3?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids – the body can’t make them, therefore we have to get them through our diet. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils.
Modern lifestyles and diets put us in a state of heightened and prolonged stress – an inflammatory state. Typically most modern diets are high in Omega-6 (partly due to the lack of grass fed beef in our diets) and once our intake of Omega-6 far outweighs our intake of Omega-3, we are in a pro-inflammatory sate and our body experiences increased inflammation. Once this happens, we suffer a wide range of health consequences. Omega-3 is a natural anti-inflammatory and probably something that all of us are lacking in.
EPA and DHA are specific types of Omega-3 fatty acids. EPA is responsible for reducing inflammation and DHA is responsible for brain development.
The benefits of Fish Oil supplementation
- Helps burn fat (increases insulin sensitivity)
- Reduces inflammation (pain management)
- Improves mood (helps increase serotonin levels)
- Decreases blood pressure
- Lowers the risk of heart disease, cancer, adhd, alzheimer’s disease
- Can improve skin conditions
- Helps foetal brain development
All of this sounds great, so I guess this leads us on to the next question…
How much should I take?
This depends on numerous factors. How much inflammation is your body suffering from at this current time? Factors like stress, lifestyle management, sleep (or lack of), exercise level, injuries/over-training, current diet will all determine how much inflammation your body is experiencing.
So depending on where you are at right now in managing these lifestyle factors, you may need to increase your fish oil intake. This fish oil calculator is a great resource for figuring out where you are in the scale of things.
*As with anything, exercise common sense and if you are being advised to take a large amount of fish oils, build up to it – or better still, get the other lifestyle factors in order too. If you are suffering from any medical conditions, consult your doctor first. It should also be noted that as you get your lifestyle (diet / sleep / exercise /stress) in order, you will need to review and reduce your fish oil intake. Fish oil shouldn’t be looked upon as a quick fix either, and you shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the above factors. Get the big issues in order first.
What are the downsides?
From a personal point of view, I have never found a dramatic change once I started taking fish oil – but then again I have never been in a situation of experiencing chronic stress or other pro inflammatory factors. Some studies have shown that it can take at least 4 weeks to see noticeable differences. But it’s the underlying silent inflammation that we aren’t aware of that leads to health decline so we may not feel much going on at all initially.
I have also found that when I am supplementing on the higher scale of the dosages that I bleed easier if I take a knock in training (martial arts). For this reason I am still not 100% sold on recommending fish oils to athletes involved in combat sports and I was reluctant to recommend them to the MMA fighters I was training for the very reason a fight could get stopped by a cut which could be exacerbated by fish oils (blood thinning). For general populations, this shouldn’t (!) be an issue.
Having said that, if you do have a tendency to bleed, are on blood thinning medications, about to have surgery, are taking aspirin or on statins, anything that will thing your blood, consult your doctor first.
*I also get asked if Cod Liver Oil is ok. Not in the higher end dosages as recommended by the fish oil calculator. The reason being that there is Vitamin A in Cod Liver Oil and the higher end dosages can lead to toxic levels of Vitamin A – this is why I would always recommend a high concentrated Omega-3 supplements only.
There are too many studies and top level coaches pushing fish oils and listing the various health benefits for them to be ignored. They are definitely something worth supplementing with – especially if you think you may be in a pro inflammatory state right now and are also hitting a plateau in your training or even over-training.
Of course be sensible in your initial dosages, build up to it and if you are not certain you should be taking them, consult your doctor first. And look for fish oil with high concentrations of EPA and DHA. Make sure to keep an eye on how you feel and how much you are taking – remember, self awareness!!