Fish oil has been a pretty strongly-suggested supplement for years, if not a decade. It’s one we’ve almost all heard of. But there’s a lot more to adding it to your regimen than just stopping by the grocery store. Do you really need it? What does it do for your body? How do you make sure you get “the good stuff”? I wanted to share what I tell my patients and my perspective on fish oil just to maybe help clear some of these questions up.

Your body needs fatty acids to help generate energy, to store energy for later use, to insulate and protect the body, for absorbing and transporting those vitamins only soluble in fats, and to build cell membranes, synthesize cholesterol, vitamin D, and hormones. It’s so cool that through your diet, you can choose what your cell membranes are made of! The only fatty acids we need to consume are omega-3 and omega-6 (all other ones we can make on our own). If you fail to consume enough fatty acids you might notice itchy, flaky skin, diarrhea, and even infections.

Omega 3’s and 6’s will be metabolized down different pathways because of their different structures. To keep it very simple, the omega-3 pathway is anti-inflammatory and the omega-6 pathway is pro-inflammatory. If you have a diet that has a greater than 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, you’re more likely to be living with that pro-inflammatory pathway. The ideal proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 is 1:1, but less than 4:1 is still appropriate.

How do you know what your diet consists of? Well, omega-3’s are higher in the meat of grass-fed animals and in wild-caught fish and they are produced in the leaves of plants. Broccoli, lettuces, and flax oil are low in 6 and higher in 3. Omega-6’s are higher in grain-fed animals (including some farm-fed fish) and are produced in the seeds of plants. Oatmeal, corn oil, and potato chips have high ratios of omega-6 to 3.

Adding fish oil to your diet can help tip your ratios toward omega-3 fatty acids. How do you know what brand is a good one to buy, though? You want to try to find a brand that includes the antioxidant vitamin E, which helps keep the oil from becoming rancid. If your fish oil is rancid-smelling or tasting, it’s probably doing the opposite to what you intend it to do for your body. You might see the letters ALA, EPA, and/or DHA on a bottle of fish oil–those are the names of the types of acid present in that product. They’re all omega-3’s. A good dosage (which doesn’t follow the recommendations of the American Heart Association) is 1-3g per day. That can be several pills, so choose your dosage with that in mind.

I’m not going to endorse a particular brand here, but if you want to email me at I’ll be happy to tell you what I take. In fact, if you have any other questions I’ll be happy to answer those as well!

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