Fish oil is often touted as useful for lowering cholesterol, and I’ve even recommended it as part of a healthy diet on this site. I thought it was time though, to take a good look at the latest research and findings on cholesterol and fish oil.
There is no doubt that fish oil has a lot of benefits for the human body. What we need to determine is whether there’s any advantage for your cholesterol levels in using it. Is it in any way beneficial to help balance your cholesterol numbers?
In an overview of Omega-3 fatty acid therapies, we can see it noted that there are very well documented advantages to taking omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids for cardiovascular diseases. Among the potential cardiovascular benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids as found is fish oil, those with specific reference to cholesterol include a reduction in non-HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and an increase in HDL cholesterol.
The website of the University of Maryland Medical Center also confirms that these fatty acids can lower the incidence of heart disease. This is due, among other benefits, to the lowering of triglycerides and the increase in HDL cholesterol.
So, how do we sort through some of the conflicting information out there about the benefits of fish oil for cholesterol.
According to Donald Jump, an investigator from the Linus Pauling Institute, a lot of these conflicting views and findings can be attributed to the different periods in which they were done. More recent studies, done on people more likely to be taking medication for cholesterol, will have a harder time detecting the value of fish oil and the fatty acids it contains since the effect will be harder to notice.
Supplements or natural substances don’t have as quick an effect as medication. It accumulates over time with long term use.
Jump is convinced that omega-3 fatty acids still have plenty of health benefits for the cardiovascular system, in addition to all the other benefits it has for overall health.
Supplements or Food?
Now, there are two major ways of ingesting fish oil. You can get it through supplements, or you can get it through your diet. In other words, either pop a pill or eat fish.
For cholesterol, getting fish oil through your diet appears to be the recommended course of action. Taking too high a concentration of fish oil can have various side effects that can adversely affect your health.
What else do we know?
Mayoclinic rates the evidence for fish oil and omega-3s to aid with cholesterol as a C – that means “unclear scientific evidence for this use”. In other words, we know there are possible benefits, but more definitive study is needed to be certain one way or the other.
They rate the lowering of triglycerides with an A though, meaning that there is strong scientific evidence for that. So, fish oil can definitely play a decisive role in reducing the chances of heart disease, even if its cholesterol lowering qualities is still under dispute.
EPA and DHA in Isolation
Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have studied the effects of EPA and DHA (the two most important omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish oil) in isolation. This will perhaps give us the best idea of what you can expect fish oil to do to your cholesterol levels.
These studies found that DHA increases LDL (bad) cholesterol by as much as 16%. EPA has no effect or slightly decreases LDL, while both these fatty acids lower triglycerides significantly.
This is probably what we can take away from the available evidence. Fish oil is very beneficial for the human body in a variety of ways, and may positively affect your cholesterol balances. However, you will need to use supplement that contains high amounts of EPA and lower amounts of DHA. That way you still get the benefit or lower triglycerides without the additional increase in LDL. Using fish oil supplements with high amounts of DHA may actually increase your LDL cholesterol.
Moderate amounts of fish oil ingested through your diet over a long period of time will have heart health benefits and possibly also influence your cholesterol. However, there are much more potent natural remedies to take for cholesterol, for example the natural supplement Choleslo.
It is much more important to pay attention to the other things you can do to lower cholesterol. I’m talking about the lifestyle changes, like indulging in a healthier diet filled with low cholesterol foods. Exercise regularly and keep your weight at a healthy level. These are the things that will ultimately make much more of a difference than spending hundreds of dollars on fish oil supplements.
So, while we don’t want to forget about all the health benefits of fish oil, at the moment all I can say with regards to lowering cholesterol is that essential fatty acids is non-essential for that particular purpose, and in certain formulations may increase your bad cholesterol. They do, however, contribute to heart health in various other ways, so talking to your doctor about a sensible way to ingest them, whether through responsible supplementation or simply some more fish in your diet, is a good idea.