Fish oil is the most common source of omega-3 fatty acids that are considered essential. Omega-3 fatty acids provide a wide range of health benefits including treatment and decreasing risk of heart attack and stroke.(1) As the name indicates, fish oil comes from oily fish.
Fatty fish are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids and you can get the amounts needed to maintain health by eating 7 ounces of fatty fish per week, according to the American Heart Association. (1) While this comes down to two easy servings of 3.5 ounces of cooked fish per week, most of us do not include fish in our diet. The problem is further compounded by the fact that most people are consuming high levels of omega-6 fatty acids in the form of hydrogenated oils and grain-fed meats. By consuming high amounts of omega-6’s in our diets, we throw off the delicate omega 3:6 ratio in our bodies, which leads to omega-6 dominance. To offset this, omega 3 supplementation becomes essential.
Taking supplements of fish oil is a great way to get your recommended intakes of omega-3 fatty acids. Let us look at what are omega-3 fatty acids, what to look for in fish oil supplements, benefits and risks of taking fish oil supplementation, and the best time to take fish oil to avail its benefits.
Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids that provide many health benefits for your brain, heart and eyes. Three omega-3 fatty acids that have been studied the most and are known to provide health benefits are eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA, docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, and alpha-linolenic acid or ALA.
Of the three omega-3 fatty acids, ALA is the shortest in length of carbon chain and found in many plant-based foods such as chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed oil.
Our body has the ability to convert ALA to the long-chain fatty acids, EPA, and DHA. But this process is not very efficient and only limited amounts of EPA and DHA are produced in this manner. The only other way to increase levels of these essential omega-3 fatty acids is by getting them from your diet. (2)
The best sources of EPA and DHA are fatty fish such as tuna, herring, salmon, mackerel, trout, and sardine, while small amounts are also found in dairy products and meats from grass-fed animals. As mentioned before, you need to eat fatty fish at least two times a week to meet your needs for these essential omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, low fish consumption by most Americans means they do not meet their required intake of these essential omega-3 fatty acids. The only other solution is to take fish oil supplements to meet needs and the two fatty acids you should look for when shopping for fish oil supplements are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. (1,2)
Now that you have your fish oil supplements, you are faced with a dilemma – what is the best time to take fish oil?
There is no hard and fast rule as to the best time to take fish oil. You can, however, minimize the fishy aftertaste and fishy burps by making sure you do not take fish oil supplements on an empty stomach. The repeating taste of fish happens because fish oil floats on top of the stomach contents and when you burp, it causes the oil floating on top to flow back into the esophagus. You can avoid this by taking fish oil immediately before eating a meal. This will allow the fish oil to mix with food and prevent it from floating on top of the food in the stomach so that you do not experience fishy burps or aftertaste. (3). Taking it after a meal also maximizes the absorption of omega-3 you get from fish oil.
Avoid carbonated drinks such as soda, and other drinks, including water when you take your fish oil supplements as this can also reduce the reflux action that causes backflow of stomach contents and repeating fishy taste. If this still continues to bother you, you may want to split your fish oil into smaller doses and take them at different times of the day to decrease the acid reflux and heartburn. (3)
If you, like most people, find the taste and smell of fish overpowering, you will want to take your fish oil supplements in the form of gel capsules, which mask the strong fishy taste and smell. This way you can swallow the odorless gel caps easily, though taking them with a meal is still recommended to reduce the after-effects associated with fish oil. Another advantage of taking fish oil capsules with a meal is that omega-3 fatty acids are absorbed more efficiently when consumed with a meal that contains some fat. (4)
Many agree that the purity of the fish oil also plays a part in the taste and smell of the fish oil supplement. Looking for fish oil that comes from cold water fish, has been tested for heavy metals and contaminants, and is processed via advanced molecular distillation play a major part in the way the finished product smells, tastes, and acts on your body. The fish oil supplement we use is Omega Renew.
Though taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements with a meal during the day may be the obvious choice, try to find the time and meal that works best for you. Remember that the positive effects of fish oil supplements take time and you need to take them for a long period of time to see significant changes in health and avail the benefits associated with it. (5,6)
Studies show that taking omega-3 fat supplements for at least six months can lower the risk of common health issues like cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, heart disease, and reduce risk factors for congestive heart failure. Fish oil supplements have also shown to decrease high blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels and slightly improve levels of the good cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL). However, an increase in levels of the bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, or LDL has also been observed. (5,6)
Some research also indicates that omega-3 supplements may reduce joint pain in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (5,6), help relieve symptoms of depression (7), decrease inflammation (8), and even prevent some kinds of cancers such as colon and prostate cancer.(5)
Omega-3 supplementation can also improve mental health, prevent dementia, cognitive decline and improve brain function. (5)
Reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and a protective effect against age-related macular degeneration in older adults has also observed in some studies. (9, 10)
For the most part, dietary supplements of fish oil are safe to take. Many fish oils contain heavy metals and toxins. That is why it is imperative that you identify a high quality brand that has strict purity standards. Omega Renew undergoes scrupulous testing to ensure there are no contaminants and it is free of all heavy metals.
Although rare at small doses, high doses of fish oil supplementation may increase the risk of bleeding, decrease blood clotting, and increase risk of stroke. (5, 6) Talk to your healthcare provider if you are taking blood thinners or medication for high blood pressure before taking fish oil supplements.
The Bottom Line...
Including omega 3 fish oil to your diet on a regular basis will provide you with the types of omega-3 fatty acids that are essential fatty acids. If eating fish is not to your liking, fish oil supplements are an excellent way of improving your intake of the essential omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acid intake generally improves your heart health by lowering risk of cardiovascular events such as risk of heart attack.
There is no best time to take fish oil per se, but it is best to take it with a meal to avoid the unpleasant side effects such as fishy burps and aftertaste associated with it. It is also recommended that you talk to your doctor and stick to recommended dosage to get the most from your fish oil supplements.