Spartan Race

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fish Oil for Runners - and everybody else for that matter

A lot has been made of omega 3 fatty acids/fish oil and their health benefits - both for folks who are active and folks who aren't. What I can tell you is that there truly are some pretty good research behind taking fish oil on a daily basis. From a cardiovascular standpoint, Omega 3 fatty acids has been shown in fairly large doses (about 4000 mg)to decrease triglycerides (part of the "bad" non-HDL cholesterol) and minimally increase HDL. In fairly small doses ( about 1000mg per day), it has been shown to help prevent electrical problems with the heart (arrhythmia) and also to act as a decent anti-inflammatory agent. The side effects seem to be fairly minimal - there is some increased risk for bleeding and more commonly there is the phenomenon known as the "fish oil burp". People who are taking fish oil may not be getting the expected benefits, however, because in order to do so, you have to learn to label read.
What most people don't realize about fish oil is that it is not all Omega 3 fatty acid - it's a fairly heterogeneous mixture of a lot of different fats. In order to reap the benefits of taking it, you have to make sure you get adequate quantities of the omega 3 components. In most fish oil, the Omega 3 part is delineated on the label as DHA and EPA, both of which are acronyms for long scientific names not worth committing to memory. In order to determine how much Omega 3 fatty acid a given fish oil pill has in it, add up the amount of DHA and EPA it contains. This may be anywhere from about 250mg to up around 900mg for a 1000mg to 1500mg fish oil capsule. Divide the the total amount of omega 3 fatty acid you need daily by the amount of DHA + EPA contained in each pill and round up to the next whole number. That is the number of pills that need to be taken on a daily basis in order to achieve that amount of Omega 3. As you can tell, this is not necessarily a big deal if you are trying to get to the 1gram dose necessary to prevent arrhythmia and work as an anti-inflammatory (what most runners want), but if you are only getting 250 mg a capsule and you are trying to get up to 4grams a day, then you are popping 16 fish oil capsules a day! Hard for anybody to swallow.
Also, a quick word about the "plant based" Omega 3 fatty acid Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA). This is an inexpensive omega 3 that's being pumped in to everything from cooking oil to yogurt these days. It's even somehow managing to get into fish oil capsules. Mechanistically, it would seem to make sense that this shorter fatty acid would have the same effects as its longer chain big brothers EPA and DHA, but the not nearly as many studies have been done on it. If you are a vegetarian or can't stand the fish oil burp, it may be worth trying, but know that it doesn't have the body of evidence behind it that DHA and EPA have.

No comments:

Post a Comment