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Health Hack #11 - Fish Oil 101

The Original Discovery

As we’ve already touched on in previous Health Hacks, dietary fat was unjustly demonized throughout much of the latter part of the 20th century. One of the fascinating findings that began to resurrect its reputation occurred in the late 1970’s, in Greenland. Researchers gravitated there to track a storyline that seemed to defy conventional logic and dietary recommendations. Despite consuming a diet extraordinarily high in fat and cholesterol, Greenland Eskimos appeared to have very low instances of coronary artery disease (CAD).  In more deeply understanding the Greenland Eskimo diet and blood health, a spotlight was shown on Omega-3 fatty acids. To that time, Omega-3’s were known, but not well understood. That all changed very quickly.

Enter EPA & DHA - A Derivative of Most Omega-3’s

Extracting the uniqueness of the high Omega-3 content of the diet - which comprised almost entirely of oily fish - scientists began studying the effects of supplementing with fish oil over the next few decades on a variety of subjects: some perfectly healthy, some with hyper-elevated triglyceride levels, and everyone in between. A consistent narrative began to emerge. Across the board, EPA and DHA consumption showed to have a positive impact on reducing triglycerides and lowering blood pressure and inflammation, translating primarily to an improvement in cardiovascular health. Studies also linked quality fish oil to cognitive improvement. But before expanding on this subject further, let’s first boil down what EPA/DHA represents.

Dietary fats in food are classified four ways: 

-Trans Fats (all bad!)

-Saturated Fats (mixed bag, individual dependent)

-Monounsaturated Fats (generally considered the healthiest of the dietary fats)

-Polyunsaturated Fats

Of the polyunsaturated fats, two varieties exist: Omega-3 and Omega-6. The fatty acid makeup of the particular polyunsaturated fat dictates the omega. For the sake of brevity and for the pure focus on fish oil, we’re only delving into Omega-3 here. Certain Omega-3 fatty acids are the primary precursors for EPA and DHA, and it’s been found that oily fish contain far and away the highest concentration of these particular Omega-3’s.

Now we’ll return our focus entirely to EPA and DHA. Supplement companies quickly began manufacturing EPA/DHA rich fish oil as a recommended addition to the standard American diet. Amongst a daily fat intake of 100g (which translates to 900 calories), the average American consumes only 0.85g of EPA/DHA rich Omega 3’s. This is less than 1%! Large scale, multi-year scientific studies have shown time and again that a daily intake of 4.0g or more equates to a windfall of benefits, namely those described above. Found most notably in oily fish (primarily salmon, sardines, and mackerel), some non-fish whole food sources exist (eggs, certain nuts and seeds), just not in substantial quantities. And so it’s no surprise - especially in non-coastal areas (where seafood consumption is higher) - that our diets are deficient.

What To Do With This Information

Quite simply, consider taking a fish oil supplement. Though not part of a customary lipids panel, it is possible to measure your levels of EPA and DHA. Unless you’re currently consuming oily fish on a regular basis (4x per week or more) and/or supplementing with quality fish oil, there’s a very good chance you’re low. The next time you’re in conversation with your doctor, explore this narrative and try to glean some recommendations. Or feel free to hit us up (send us an email here:  While we’re open to sharing what products we believe in, we’re not in a position to give medical advice.  But we’re happy to share what’s in our medicine cabinet nonetheless.

And two final tidbits on the subject of fish oil which are often undiscussed. As you may recall from our prior article on Vitamin D, fish oil supplements must also be consumed with food. They require enzymatic conversion in the gut in order to become bioavailable, and without food their path to the gut becomes nearly impossible. Also, don’t be deterred from using fish oil due to belching. It’s very often a side effect, but fortunately one that tends to dissipate over time. Maybe supplement your purchase of capsules with some sugar-free gum to be have your bases covered 😉.