Fish Oils: The Essential Nutrients
by Hans R. Larsen, MSc ChE
THIS IS JUST A SMALL PORTION OF THE ARTICLE
Fish oils are particularly effective in reducing inflammation and can be of great benefit to people suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis or ulcerative colitis. Daily supplementation with as little as 2.7 grams of EPA and 1.8 grams of DHA can markedly reduce the number of tender joints and increase the time before fatigue sets in. Some studies have also noted a decrease in morning stiffness and at least two clinical trials concluded that Arthritis patients who took fish oils could eliminate or sharply reduce their use of NSAIDs and other Arthritis drugs. [56-61]
Patients with ulcerative colitis have abnormally low blood levels of EPA. Clinical trials have shown that supplementation with fish oil (2.7 grams of EPA and 1.8 grams of DHA daily) can reduce the severity of the condition by more than 50% and enable many patients to discontinue anti-inflammatory medication and steroids. [62-64]
There is now also considerable evidence that fish oil consumption can delay or reduce tumor development in breast cancer. Studies have also shown that a high blood level of omega-3 fatty acids combined with a low level of omega-6 acids reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. Daily supplementation with as little as 2.5 grams of fish oils has been found effective in preventing the progression from benign polyps to colon cancer and Korean researchers recently reported that prostate cancer patients have low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Greek researchers report that fish oil supplementation improves survival and quality of life in terminally ill cancer patients. [65-73]
Safe and easily available
It is estimated that 85% or more of people in the Western world are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and most get far too much of the omega-6 fatty acids. Vegetarian diets, for example, tend to be very high in omega-6.
The recommended daily intake of EPA plus DHA is about 650 mg rising to 1000 mg/day during pregnancy and lactation. Clinical trials have used anywhere from 1 g/day to 10 g/day, but little additional benefit has been observed at levels above 5 g/day of EPA and DHA combined. The benefits of therapeutic supplementation may become evident in a few weeks when blood parameters (triglycerides, fibrinogen) are involved, but may take 3 months or longer to materialize in degenerative diseases like atherosclerosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis . [74, 75]
The processing and packaging of the fish oil are crucial in determining its quality. Low quality oils may be quite unstable and contain significant amounts of mercury, pesticides, and undesirable oxidation products. High quality oils are stabilized with adequate amounts of vitamin E and are packaged in individual foil pouches or other packaging impervious to light and oxygen. Some very recent research carried out at the University of Minnesota found that emulsified fish oils are much better absorbed than the straight oils in gelatin capsules. 
Cod liver oils and fish oils are not the same. Cod liver oil is extracted from cod liver and is an excellent source of vitamins A and D. Fish oils are extracted from the tissues (flesh) of fatty fish like salmon and herring and are good sources of EPA and DHA. Fish oils contain very little vitamin A and D, but cod liver oil does contain EPA and DHA. However, you would probably exceed the recommended daily intake of vitamins A and D if you were to try to obtain therapeutic amounts of EPA and DHA from cod liver oil.
Supplementing with fish oils has been found to be entirely safe even for periods as long as 7 years and no significant adverse effects have been reported in hundreds of clinical trials using as much as 18 grams/day of fish oils. Fish oil supplementation does, however, lower blood concentrations of vitamin E so it is a good idea to take extra vitamin E when adding fish oils to your diet. A clinical trial carried out by the US Department of Agriculture found that taking 200 mg/day of synthetic vitamin E (equivalent to about 100 IU of natural alpha-tocopherol) is sufficient to completely counteract this effect of fish oil supplementation. [74, 75, 77, 78]
This article was first published in International Health News Issue 103, July 2000