Health Hack #12 - Fish Oil Supplementation
|Last week we delved into the benefits of fish oil. For this week, we’re going to highlight a few approaches one can take to maximize the benefits of fish oil supplementation while simultaneously mitigating the ill-effects one could yield when their diet falls off the rails.
As noted last week, the key benefits within fish oils reside in their robust Omega-3 fatty acid content. Within these Omega-3’s lie EPA and DHA, which possess the properties one yearns for while viewing fish oil as a nourishing supplement:
-Effective at lowering triglycerides
-Lowers blood pressure
In a near-future post on lipids we’ll spend some time breaking down the whole cholesterol paradigm that to many is quite confusing. But for now, we’re going to boil that topic down to say that there exist two primary markers for cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL, which stands for “Low Density Lipoprotein”, is often coined “bad cholesterol”. While this is on some levels misleading, it is well established that maintaining a low level of LDL is preferred over a high one. On the other end we have HDL, which stands for “High Density Lipoprotein”. HDL has the rap of being your “good cholesterol”. Again, this is drastic oversimplification, but one that will suffice for the sake of this article.
The Second Tier Of The Initial Findings On EPA/DHA
Studies observing the benefits of EPA and DHA initially led many to believe that it had a positive impact on lowering LDL. Put simply, fish oil appeared to reduce one’s “bad cholesterol”, which would be a good thing. Supplement companies immediately began manufacturing fish oil and touting one of its many benefits as lowering LDL. Once the evidence became clearer, along came the FDA to refute this claim. EPA/DHA wasn’t actually lowering LDL. That was disingenuous to suggest. Instead, the science revealed that LDL was shown to decrease because in most cases oily fish (or a fish oil supplement) were actually replacing saturated fats in the diet. When those observed were asked to ingest more fish oil as part of a study, their consumption of other animal proteins that happen to be high in saturated fats (e.g., red meats and pork) decreased by default. In other words, when people are asked to eat fish as part of a study, they’re likely to substitute that for other animal proteins rather than consuming extra protein. Makes sense.
Saturated fats, as one can deduce from above, are a known contributor to a rise in LDL. However, it should be noted that genetics play arguably the largest role in determining cholesterol behavior. One individual may adhere to a ketogenic diet, for example, that is off the charts in saturated fat intake - yet experience no discernible uptick in their LDL particle count. But then another person who consumes moderate amounts saturated fats may see their LDL levels spike. As an overarching footnote for all food advice, it’s important to note that we’re all different, and in the world of dieting there is no one size fits all approach.
Tying this all together now, what EPA/DHA can tout amongst its benefits is that it does effectively function as a neutralizer of sorts. If your diet is high in saturated fats AND you’re also consuming a sizable quantity of fish oil, then your LDL levels are better held in check. This has been shown in the science. And so, if your diet is rich in saturated fats, it may be a wise idea to consider upping your intake of fish oil. Or maybe you’re primed for moderate saturated fat intake but you find yourself craving wayyyyy too many slices of bacon than you know you should consume - maybe pull out the fish oil that day. And to be clear, we’re in no way seeking to villainize saturated fats. They can play a very important role in a balanced diet and are known to possess many beneficial properties, in certain forms. It just happens that in the context of LDL, those who are sensitive to saturated fats should be a bit careful around them.