Fish oil is, as the name suggests, the oil derived from the tissue of certain types of particularly oily fish. It is well-known for its many health benefits, and has become a regular supplement for many people in the modern world. It contains a number of beneficial acids, and is easy to take as a supplement in pill form. Fish oil pills are quite cheap, and can be purchased in a number of different grades, from different production regions.
The two things present in fish oil that makes it so appealing as a supplement are the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fish themselves do not naturally produce these acids, but they ingest them in the form of algae, in the case of small fish, or in the form of smaller fish, in the case of large fish. These larger predatory fish, like salmon and albacore tuna, are great sources of omega-3 acids, but there are some health concerns with eating fish oil derived from them.
Because of their place at the top of the food chain, many of these species of predatory fish collect various toxic substances, like PCBs and mercury, through a process called biomagnification. In recent years there has been some concern over the levels of PCBs found in some fish oil supplements, which led to stricter regulation in the European Union, and an independent process of detecting toxins. A number of procedures also exist to strip out such toxic elements, making the fish oil suitable for human consumption.
Omega-3 fatty acids have a number of different health benefits, and it seems they are constantly being linked to new benefits. Some of their main benefits revolve around heart health, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing LDLs, and increasing HDLs. They have also been linked to helping to break up clots before they can cause heart attacks and strokes.
Fish oil has also been linked to a reduction of inflammation in the body, and a subsequent reduction of chronic pain. EPA has a positive effect on the inflammatory response mechanism used by the body, acting as a strong regulator. This means that chronic pains caused by inflammation in the form of things like cystitis or arthritis can be greatly reduced by taking regular fish oil supplements and increasing the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the body.
The oil is also strongly tied to brain function, which is why many people refer to fish as brain food. Increased omega-3 levels help with memory, problem solving, attention and focus, and recall, and for pregnant mothers they help with the brain development of the child. Additionally, fish oil has been shown to have a positive effect in reducing the strength of depressive disorders, as well as manic swings and psychosis.
For those worried about the possible levels of toxins in fish oil, or for vegetarians, alternatives to fish oil supplements do exist. These vegetarian omega-3 supplements are usually derived from various species of algae. Since this algae is where the fish themselves receive the omega-3s, these supplements can be just as effective, although often the serving size is somewhat larger.