These days, Fish Oil is seen as something of a commodity. Most people assume “Fish Oil is Fish Oil” and they should just go with the cheapest brand. To be clear, this is a huge misconception…[Skip to the Bottom Line]
WHAT IS FISH OIL?
Fish Oil, as the name implies, refers to the oils of fish which contain (among other things) two omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Generally, Omega-3 supplements are standardized for these two fatty acids in particular, because the vast majority of health benefits associated with such supplements can be attributed to these two compounds.
Because the list of health claims associated with Fish Oil supplementation is extensive, for the purpose of this review we will focus on three in particular: Cognition/Learning, Cardiovascular Health, and Joint Pain. While we acknowledge that Fish Oil supplementation may convey more health benefits then these three alone, these are the areas where a significant amount of research has been conducted, making it easier to draw conclusion. Let’s begin…
A 2010 study, published in the “Journal of Nutrition”, found that higher levels of DHA (but not EPA) were associated with better performance on cognitive tests assessing nonverbal reasoning, mental flexibility, working memory, and vocabulary in humans (ages 35-54).
These findings were in-line with those of an earlier (1999) study in which DHA supplementation was associated with significant improvements in memory related learning ability in rats.
Furthermore, a 2012 study using 2 grams of DHA/EPA found that 6 months of supplementation resulted in enhanced working memory in otherwise healthy individuals (ages 18-25). While Omega-3 supplementation has shown much promise in several studies, it is worth mentioning that some studies have found no such benefit.
A 2008 study, the subjects of which were older (but healthy) individuals, found there was no effect on cognitive performance measures after 26 weeks of DHA/EPA supplementation. Similar results were noted in two separate studies from the “Journal of Psychopharmacology” and the “British Journal of Nutrition”. Based on the research, it appears those who are likely to derive the most cognitive benefit are those with low levels of DHA/EPA to begin with.
Triglycerides are formed from a glycerol molecule attached to three fatty acids and are the major constituents of fats, both plant and animal. High Triglyceride levels generally occur as a result of excessive fat intake, and are considered a major risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease.
A 2011 meta-analysis, comparing several randomized, placebo controlled studies, concluded that both DHA and EPA significantly reduce triglycerides after several weeks of supplementation. Logically, individuals with higher triglycerides tend to see a greater reduction.
Fish Oil supplementation has also been noted, in three other meta-analysis (each consisting of several randomized, double-blind placebo controlled studies), to significantly reduce triglyceride levels in individuals with hyperlipidemia (abnormally high fat in the blood). Ultimately, Fish Oil supplementation is an effective way to reduce cardiovascular risk by lowering triglycerides and keeping them within the normal range.
JOINT PAIN & INFLAMMATION:
A 2007 meta-analysis consisting of 17 different trials, which sought to determine if fish oil supplementation may be beneficial for joint pain (associated with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases), found a significant decrease in subject-reported joint pain (intensity, stiffness, tenderness, etc.).
The alleged mechanism of action here is through suppression of the cytokine (cell-signaling protein) TNF-alpha which stimulates inflammation. Overall, Fish Oil is effective at reducing inflammation, so the benefits seen with arthritis patients likely pertain to various inflammatory conditions, both mild and severe.
FORMS OF FISH OIL:
Just as there are multiple sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, both dietary and supplemental, there are multiple types of fish oil, the most common of which are the ‘ethyl ester’ form and the ‘triglyceride’ form. The triglyceride form tends to be the better absorbed of the two, as demonstrated in a 2010 study in which the ethyl-ester form achieved only 73% bioavailability compared to the triglyceride form.
Citadel uses the triglyceride form, conveying an obvious advantage of various brands which use the ethyl ester form. Beyond this distinction, Fish Oil can be further examined based on the type of fish the oil is extracted from. Generally speaking, the larger the fish, the more mercury may be present in the oil. Mercury, in high doses, is extremely detrimental to health and extreme cases of mercury poisoning may result in death. For that reason, it is generally recommended to consume Fish Oil that is extracted from small fish.
Citadel’s Fish Oil is derived from anchovies and sardines, and is tested for mercury (these test results are available on their website).
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Overall, Citadel’s Fish Oil is one of the best Omega-3 supplements we’ve analyzed. Fish Oil, as opposed to supplements that contain a combination of ingredients, may seem like a commodity to the average individual. On the contrary, the quality of such products tends to vary significantly from brand to brand. Compared to the industry average, Citadel’s Fish Oil has a high concentration of EPA/DHA relative to other Omega-3 fatty acid content. Given that the triglyceride form is superior to the ethyl-ester form found in so many competing products, yet the price is in the average range, we strongly recommend Citadel’s Fish Oil to anyone looking for a-quality Omega-3 supplement.
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