The simple answer is yes. But there are some caveats that every consumer should keep in mind.
Science tells us that an animal with an optimal level of omega-3 fatty acids in its diet will be able to resolve its inflammation when it is challenged to do so.
If it doesn’t have enough omega-3 fatty acids in its diet, its inflammation will persist, said Charles Serhan, an expert on omega-3 fatty acids and a professor at Harvard Medical School. But does that translate to supplements? “I don’t know the answer to that,” Serhan said.
Serhan said questions related to supplements such as “How much should I take?” and “Are there differences between the omega-3 requirements of a man and a woman?” are still unresolved.
And when it comes to supplements in general, there are other questions that a consumer should consider, namely, “Does the supplement actually contain what it says it does?”
“That’s a big problem in our country because supplements aren’t really policed at all,” said Beth Shutt, a registered dietitian and certified specialist in sports nutrition.
“Anybody can put something out on the shelf and say, ‘Hey, this is fish oil.’”
Depending on where fish oil comes from, it could contain high levels of mercury and PCBs.
If the fish oil is from farmed fish, it contains a significantly lower amount of omega-3 fatty acids than it would if it were from wild fish, as farmed fish are fed food they would never eat in the wild, changing their physical makeup.
One of the cardinal rules of nutrition is that humans do best when they get their nutrients from food, which is why most nutritionists recommend that you do your best to get omega-3s from real food, such as wild salmon, anchovies, Bluefin tuna, sardines, trout, flaxseeds, walnuts, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and kidney, pinto and mung beans.
“But fish oil is one exception to the rule, because mercury is a real problem, and the fish we eat can have pretty high mercury levels. If you get a really high quality fish oil, you can take it without worrying about mercury and other contaminants,” Shutt said.
When choosing a fish oil supplement, Shutt recommends that you cross-reference your supplement with U.S. Pharmacopeia, an agency that independently verifies the quality and potency of dietary supplements. She also recommends ensuring that your supplement contains high levels of omega-3s, and that the company you are purchasing from tests its products for purity.
This piece first appeared in the June 2011 issue of Competitor Magazine.