Eating fish several times a week is an essential part of any cholesterol-lowering plan. But believe it or not, eating fish regularly is still not enough.
To get the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that, according to the latest research, can lower triglycerides, counter inflammation, reduce blood stickiness, and provide other heart benefits, you must supplement your diet with a fish-oil supplement.
Fish oil may have other advantages as well, such as strengthening immune function, improving LDL/HDL ratio, staving off depression, helping with allergies, countering inflammation in people with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease, and possibly helping stave off certain cancers. Other benefits worth noting are fish oil's ability to lower blood pressure, slow blood clotting, and stave off type 2 diabetes in conjunction with statin drugs. In addition, fish-oil supplements appear to help regulate your heart's electrical activity, lowering the risk of heart attack or sudden cardiac death from arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.
If you're worried about having to swallow a yucky-tasting oil every day (maybe you're remembering taking castor oil as a kid), don't worry. The translucent, gelatin capsules are odorless, tasteless, and easy to swallow, even though they are large. And they're also relatively inexpensive -- you can get 100 1,000-milligram softgels for under $3. (As a reminder, 1,000 milligrams equal 1 gram.)
Two main types of omega-3 fatty acids make up fish oil: EPA and DHA (don't worry about the full scientific names). Look for a product that contains both. One product we like is Max EPA. Take 1,000 milligrams twice daily. If you already have heart disease, talk to your doctor about taking higher doses. If you're a vegan (someone who does not eat any animal products or fish), consider taking flaxseed oil instead of fish-oil supplements. Flaxseed and its oil are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Take a tablespoon a day in either capsule or oil form, or use in salad dressings and cooking. Just don't take both fish oil and flaxseed oil, since both have blood-thinning effects.
Because fish-oil supplements can reduce the time it takes blood to clot, talk to your doctor before taking them if you're also taking blood-thinning medications like Coumadin (warfarin) or are at high risk for bleeding disorders.
When in the vitamin aisle be sure to look for a brand with the USP label verifying that the supplement contains the level of ingredients the label claims. When ConsumerLab.com, an independent company that evaluates dietary supplements, tested fish-oil supplements, it found that one-third of the 20 brands tested did not contain the levels of EPA and DHA advertised. Two of the products that failed even stated on their labels that they had been tested or verified for potency.