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Is Fish Oil Just for My Boomer Parents, or Should I Be Taking It, Too?

It’s likely good for your heart, but it might (emphasis on might) also help improve your mental health, too

If there’s one thing Boomers love, it’s talking up a supplement that people have already been incorporating into their everyday diet for centuries. Like, you guys know turmeric is a spice you can eat, right? But maybe fish oil is one supplement that makes a little more sense — you’d basically have to be eating fish every single day in order to get the benefits of fish oil through your diet alone. 

Fish oil is often touted as a heart-health booster, something younger generations may not yet be concerned about. But is there any reason for non-Boomers to be consuming the condensed juices of our ocean friends, too? 

As with just about every supplement your doctor isn’t directly telling you to take, the answer is a resounding, “I don’t know, maybe, if you feel like it.” Studies have shown that fish oil may help with a variety of mental and physical health issues, but the keyword is “may.” There is little conclusive evidence that fish oil definitely will do anything at all, but the studies that have been conducted are somewhat optimistic. 

Of the most promising, as mentioned earlier, there is an increasing body of research suggesting that a fish oil supplement could be beneficial to heart health. People who eat a diet that regularly includes fish have lower rates of heart disease overall, and a fish oil supplement might help fill the gaps for those who don’t. It appears that fish oil benefits the heart by targeting various risk factors for heart disease. Namely, it’s been found to reduce triglycerides by 15 to 30 percent, increase “good” cholesterol and lower blood pressure in a variety of studies supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Even if you’re not at an age where you think much about your heart health, those are all positives. Perhaps more enticingly, though, fish oil might (again, keyword, might) help your mental health. Fish oil primarily contains omega 3-fatty acids, a type of fat found in the brain. Deficiencies in these fatty acids have been linked to schizophrenia, depression and psychotic disorders, so clearly, it’s important stuff. Fish oil supplements, then, might be able to reduce symptoms or prevent the onset of mental health issues in those who are susceptible. 

On top of all that, studies have had various success in linking fish supplements to eye and bone health, improving skin conditions, maintaining asthma and allergy symptoms, reducing liver fat and improving attention and hyperactivity in children. Again, none of this is perfectly effective, but the breadth of studies on fish oil alone might be reason to give it a shot if you’re not already getting it through your diet. 

The thing with fish oil is that it’s not the fishiness itself that makes it healthy, but the fact that it contains high amounts of those omega 3s. Hypothetically, you could get them somewhere else. The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults get 1.1 to 1.6 grams of omega 3s per day, particularly in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Consuming a few servings of fatty fish like salmon per week will help you get there, but the foods richest in ALAs are actually flax and chia seeds. One tablespoon of flaxseed oil, for example, delivers 7.26 grams of ALA. 

If you hate both fish and seeds, then maybe a supplement is for you. Unfortunately, most supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, and the quality of the pills themselves can vary. Plus, fish oil pills might not get you out of tasting fish entirely, considering “fish oil burps” are a pretty common side effect. 

But hey, all those potential benefits might make it worth it.