The claims of late for fish oil sound as extravagant as those for snake oil – but a closer look at the research suggests that fish oil may actually live up to its amazing promises. The secret ingredient? Two special omega-3 fats – called EPA and DHA – that are found in every fish, but which are lacking in almost everyone’s diet.
There’s real evidence that inside the body, omega-3 fats help prevent or treat rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, heart attacks, cancer, Crohn’s disease, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, manic depression, cystic fibrosis and severe menstrual cramps. Some experts even tie the rise of depression in the twentieth century to diets low in omega-3s.
The most convincing evidence for fish oil suggests that it helps prevent fatal heart attacks. Fish oil helps keep the heart from beating irregularly, which may explain why a recent Italian study of 11,000 heart attack survivors found that those who took 1,000 milligrams of fish oil omega-3s per day had 45 percent fewer fatal heart attacks over the next 3 1/2 years. One of the newest and most promising areas of research is the complementary use of fish oil in treating depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Omega-3 researcher and psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Stoll, of Harvard Medical School, recommends fish oil supplements along with prescription medications to many of his own patients with depression and bipolar disorder. It is recommended that everyone get an average of at least 500 milligrams of the omega-3s found in fish per day. If you eat omega-3-rich fish such as salmon and mackerel twice a week, you should reach this goal. But if you don’t, fish oil capsules are an alternative. Taking capsules containing up to 1,000 milligrams of omega-3s per day has never been shown to be harmful, though you should tell your doctor what you’re taking.