What Does Fish Oil Do?

Fish oil contains a type of fatty acid called omega 3, and has been proven via numerous studies that it can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. The typical Western diet is high in omega 6 fatty acids, which are found in eggs, bread, and most vegetable oils. This imbalance in ratio between the two is one of the main causes of cardiovascular illness in the modern world, and thanks to fish oil one of the easiest to rectify.

The primary benefit of omega 3 fatty acids is to act as an anti-inflammatory. Cholesterol in the body consist of two types: “good” cholesterol, called HDL (high density lipoprotein)
, and “bad” cholesterol, called LDL (low density lipoprotein). When LDL levels get too high, along with a diet high omega 6 instead of omega 3, the inflammatory effects of omega 6 mixed with the high LDL levels is one of the risk factors of cardiovascular illness.

So, getting both LDL and inflammation to lower levels is a good thing. One way to do this is with omega 3. Technically, omega 3 causes inflammation as well, but it causes less inflammation than omega 6, and since the two “compete” in the body, the higher levels of omega 3 you have the lower your inflammation.

So fish oil does lower the inflammation of omega 6, but does it also lower cholesterol? Technically, not that much. In fact, it may even lead to a slight increase in LDL, but this is more than offset by the beneficial anti-inflammatory effects, and the heart-disease reducing effects of fish oil is well established by science.

Fish oil may not actually lower cholesterol, but it does lower triglycerides, a form of fat that circulates through the bloodstream and can lead to hardening of the arteries, and hence cardiovascular illness. So that’s a double hit from fish oil against heart disease: lowered triglycerides, and anti-inflammation.

There is also a popular vegetable alternative to fish oil: flaxseed oil. This contains omega 3 fatty acids a well, but only ALA. ALA converts very inefficiently to the DHA and EPA that the body needs and which provides a protective effect against heart disease. So, while some supplement makers tout flax as a good omega 3, it is recommended not to use it in place of fish oil. Opt for a fish oil with high levels of DHA instead, if you wish to get the most cardiovascular benefit.