What is Fish Oil for and Do You Really Need It?


Conclusion: Omega-3s in fish oil have anti-inflammatory activity that may help some inflammatory diseases, including arthritis. 


What about Cancer?


Where fish oil shows the most promise from a cancer perspective is for breast cancer prevention. A number of studies show fish oil supplements reduce breast cancer risk by as much as 30%. Research also shows it may lower the risk of breast cancer recurrence.


Another common cancer that fish oils may lower the risk of is colon cancer. We should mention that one study in 2013 found men who had the highest levels of long-chain omega-3s in their bloodstream had a HIGHER risk for prostate cancer.


Although this study has been widely criticized, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re male. Here’s a link to an article we wrote on that study. Keep in mind that some research now shows omega-3s LOWER the risk of prostate cancer. 


Conclusion: Fish oil supplements may be more beneficial for women than men in terms of cancer prevention. 


Fish Oil - Salmon
Wild-caught salmon is high in protein, low in calories, and a good source of omega-3s.

Mental Health Benefits?


If you suffer from anxiety or depression, there’s evidence that the omega-3s in fish oil may help. In fact, research suggests long-chain omega-3s may help you better deal with stress, although exactly how it does this is unknown.


According to David Mischoulon, MD, PhD, director of research in the Depression Clinical and Research Program at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, long-chain omega-3s are as active in the brain as antidepressants. In addition, low levels of omega-3s are linked with a higher risk of suicide.


Conclusion: Growing evidence suggests long-chain omega-3s are beneficial for depression and anxiety. 


Other Potential Health Benefits


One thing that happens as we age, among many, is we lose muscle mass. Just recently, a study showed healthy adults over the age of 60 who took fish oil supplements lost less muscle mass over time. That’s important! The main reason people become frail, fall, and fracture a hip is because they lose muscle mass.


  • If you don’t want to lose muscle mass, here’s your prescription:
  • Check your vitamin D level and make sure it stays in the normal range. Take supplements if necessary. 
  • Make sure you’re getting enough long-chain omega-3s in your diet.
  • Resistance train.


If you do these three things, you WILL lose less muscle as you age. If you still want to be fit enough to do the things you enjoy during retirement, there’s your blueprint.


Should You Take a Fish Oil Supplement?


We believe you SHOULD get long-chain omega-3s by eating fatty fish twice a week. Wild-caught salmon is your best bet, not farm-raised. If you buy wild salmon, levels of mercury and toxins are low enough that you can safely eat it twice weekly. Here’s an article on selecting salmon


If you don’t eat fatty fish at all and you’re female, we recommend taking a fish oil supplement as it may lower your risk for breast cancer. If you’re male, at this point, we recommend eating fatty fish and approaching fish oil supplements with caution until more information comes out about the prostate cancer connection.


Before taking a fish oil supplement, talk to your doctor. Omega-3s can interact with some medications. You also shouldn’t take it before surgery or if you’re undergoing chemotherapy.


Choosing a Fish Oil Supplement and How Much Fish Oil Do You Need?


When choosing fish oil supplement, you have to be concerned with how fresh the product is. The fats in fish oil are unstable and become rancid quite easily. Depending on how the fish oil is processed, it may be rancid, or oxidized, before it even reaches you.


Rancid fish oil produces free radicals that are potentially damaging to cells, tissues, and blood vessels. Plus, as you know, supplements aren’t highly regulated by the FDA, so you don’t know which supplements are oxidized and even if what’s in the capsule is pure fish oil. Some companies add fillers.


Plus, fish oil capsules are more highly concentrated than others. The concentration can be as high as 90% to as low as 10%. Prescription fish oil capsules have the highest concentration of fish oil, 80% and above.


That doesn’t mean you can’t get a high-quality fish oil capsule without a prescription. At the end of the article, we listed several fish oil supplements that have been independently tested and deliver a good combination of suitable concentration, free of contamination, and likely to be fresh.


How much fish oil do you need? If you’re taking 1,000 milligram capsules, most data suggest 2 capsules are enough to offer benefits. This assumes that that the capsule you’re taking has a concentration of fish oil of at least 50%.


Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.