"Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food."
As Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food." However, a quick scan of the Mosaic Law--the first five books of the Old Testament--makes the food laws contained within seem purely arbitrary or contrived. Closer examination, though, reveals that these laws reflect both the health benefits and dangers of the foods involved, particularly considering the food preparation methods of the time. Raw or improperly prepared shellfish, for example, could carry the dangerous (and potentially fatal) bacteria Vibrio vulnificus. Oily fish (such as salmon, trout, and tuna), on the other hand, fit perfectly within the acceptable foods and provide significant health benefits.
Fish oil has been linked to ocular health, cardiovascular health, and mental health. The fish oil derived from oily fish is an important source of the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
In truth, these omega-3 acids are not produced by oily fish. Rather, the fish consume it through their own diet. Both EPA and DHA are formed within algae, so as the fish eat the algae they acquire a concentration of omega-3 fatty acids.
When it comes to omega-3 acids, not all fish are created equal. Oilier saltwater fish like trout, tuna, and salmon contain higher concentrations of EPA and DHA than leaner fish, such as cod, haddock, and pollock. These leaner fish do contain omega-3 acids, though primarily in the liver and not nearly in the same amounts. A fillet from an oily fish, on the other hand, may contain upwards of 30 percent oil.
Studies have shown a connection between the consumption of fish or fish oil products and the prevention of heart attacks, strokes, clogged arteries, or high blood pressure. For patients who have already experienced a heart attack, omega-3 fatty acids appear to reduce the risk of cardiac death. Overall, consuming fish oils can have a positive effect on the functioning of the cardiovascular system.
Brain function may also be preserved by the consumption of fish oils. Those who eat fish and/or fish oil supplements generally experience a heighten ability to concentrate, lower levels of memory loss, and a decreased chance of developing dementia. DHA in particular is believed to be associated with the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. Fish oil may also have beneficial effects on those prone to depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other psychiatric disorders.
With its anti-inflammatory effects, fish oil is an important ingredient in the treatment of asthma, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Joint pain may be significantly reduced by diets that regularly include omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oils can also affect eyesight. Specifically, the progression of macular degeneration--a condition resulting in the loss of vision among the elderly--can be slowed or even prevented by the consumption of omega-3 acids.
As the fetuses and newborns in particular require these omega-3 acids, it is recommended that pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers ensure that their diet include a healthy supply of both EPA and DHA to pass on to the children. Fish oil consumption may also help prevent postpartum depression and premature birth.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also provide healthy benefits for the skin. Skin has been found to be smoother and more elastic in patients who consume fish regularly. Plus, it has been suggested that the aging process and the formation of wrinkles can be slowed.
Such supplements can help ensure a diet containing an adequate amount of omega-3 acids, thus providing for many of the health benefits associated with fish oils.