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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Fish Oils are good for your Health
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Jay Cao


Fats and oils are an essential part of healthy diets. They provide energy, help in forming cells and tissues, and many supply vitamins A, E and K.

Excessive intakes of fats – in fact, excessive intakes of any type of calories - can lead to overweight and obesity, which affects more than 60 percent Americans.  Obesity is linked to increased risks for hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers.

Yet, some fats and oils can benefit health.  Those containing long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids support important biological functions. 

Fish can be a rich sources of long-chain omega-3s; but not all fish are created equal.  Oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and anchovies have high levels of omega-3s; while tilapia, walleye and farmed catfish typically have little or no omega-3s.  Studies have shown that including oily fish in your diet can lower triglycerides and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some researchers have also found positive effects on hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis.  

Research has also found consuming adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids may help preserve muscle, maintain a healthy body weight and reduce risk of osteoporosis. Adding omega-3s to high-fat diets of mice has been shown to prevent those animals from becoming obese.  Fish oil supplements have been found to increase muscle protein synthesis in healthy, older adults.

Many Americans eat heart-unhealthy diets that are low in omega-3 fatty acids and contain relatively high amounts of saturated and other unsaturated fatty acids.  Ample evidence suggests that this imbalance may also contribute to osteoporosis.  For example, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of some 14,000 Americans found intakes of saturated fats from animal products to be associated with low bone mineral density.  Several animal studies have found that increasing intakes of omega-3 fatty acids improved the formation and retention of bone mineral.

 Osteoporosis affects nearly 10 million Americans, especially postmenopausal women.  Its risk and impact increase with age and may worsen with obesity due to the effects of chronic inflammation and the strain of excess weight.  It is thought that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils, which have anti-inflammatory properties, may be useful in improving bone health while preventing obesity.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get 8 or more ounces of oily fish per week. This level of intake should provide about 250 mg per day of omega-3s, a level that has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease risk and should also help maintain healthy body weight and healthy bones.

To learn more about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, visit:
www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.


Last Modified: 8/13/2013
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