Can Fish Oil Lower Cholesterol?
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Your yearly blood panel came back, and your doctor isn’t impressed with your numbers. Turns out, you’re one of the 94 million Americans with high cholesterol. Untreated high cholesterol can place you at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
Armed with this news and a can-do attitude, you begin a mission to lower your cholesterol without the use of prescription medication (under your doctor’s care, of course). Your doctor recommends eating better, exercising more and taking fish oil supplements.
Omega-3 seems to get good press for being heart healthy, so it seems only natural that taking a fish oil supplement would help lower unhealthy cholesterol, right?
Before you buy your first burpless bottle, let’s talk about what science has to say about fish oil, cholesterol, and another fatty acid you may not have heard about.
What is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is exactly what it sounds like: oil derived from the tissues and/or livers of fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, or swordfish.
Fish oil is high in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are both types of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.Omega-3s are abundant in dietary sources including nuts like walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and vegetable oils. These sources also contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the only essential omga-3, which the body converts to combined EPA and DHA. Essential means our bodies need that nutrient to function but we can’t make it on our own.
Fish oil supplements contain ALA, DHA, EPA and often, a lot of less desirable ingredients, toxins, and fillers. Most fish oil supplements are derived from — just as it sounds like — fish, which results in the fishy smell and taste of many of these supplements. Even burpless formulas can’t completely rid you of the fish-like aftertaste. Most people simply grow accustomed to it.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a wax-like substance that is found in your blood. It’s not all bad; your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, synthesize hormones, and produce vitamin D. However, too much cholesterol gets sticky, taking up residency on the walls of your arteries and causing damage.
There are two “types” of cholesterol: LDL (low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). LDL transports cholesterol molecules in your blood to your arterial walls, and packs that cholesterol into the arterial tissues. It’s considered “bad” cholesterol because it’s the type that causes clogged arteries, contributes to heart attacks and coronary heart disease, and leads to high triglyceride levels.
HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol. HDL collects excess cholesterol molecules and carries them to the liver to be metabolized. It’s important to have healthy HDL cholesterol levels to keep unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels lower.
If your blood panel came back showing your total cholesterol was over 240, then you have high cholesterol. A screening that results in a cholesterol reading lower than 200 is considered low cholesterol.
What Causes High Cholesterol?
There are numerous reasons why you might have high cholesterol, including your genetics. If you exercise and eat a healthy diet, finding out you have unhealthy cholesterol numbers can feel like a kick in the gut.
Other causes of high cholesterol in the general population include:
- Excess weight and obesity
- Inactivity and sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet
- Certain medications
- Chronic illnesses
- Genetic factors
In addition to improving you diet and exercising more, your doctor may also suggest taking a supplement like omega-3s or another prescribed medication to improve your heart health.
Here’s what you should know about fish oil and how it affects cholesterol.
Fish Oil and Your Cholesterol
It seems like a sure bet; fish oil helps support heart health, so it makes sense it would lower your cholesterol, too. Unfortunately, the claims may not be as science-backed as they’re advertised to be.
Fish oil has been studied extensively with relation to cholesterol numbers. In over 21 studies of healthy men and women, fish oil supplements (high doses of omega-3) were actually shown to increase bad LDL cholesterol. For someone with an already unhealthy LDL or total cholesterol screening, this could increase their risk of developing heart disease.
DHA has been shown to increase LDL, while pure EPA has been shown to have no effect on LDL. Further, Omega-3s are FDA-approved for treating triglyceridemia and not hypercholesterolemia. Not to mention, omega-3s increase one’s risk of bleeding and are not recommended prior to elective surgery.
There’s slightly conflicting evidence in new research, though. Fish oil does have an impact on cholesterol, and it isn’t simply an increase in LDL cholesterol. Studies of fish oil supplement use also reveal that fish oil helps increase your good HDL cholesterol levels. The same studies also reported that fish oil helped increase the molecule size of LDL cholesterol.
The increase in LDL cholesterol molecules makes them less likely to cling to artery walls, which can decrease your chances of developing atherosclerosis.
Bottom line: Should You Take Fish Oil to Lower Your Cholesterol?
Probably not. If you have high cholesterol numbers, there is good evidence to show that taking fish oil won’t help you regain cholesterol balance. In fact, it could place you at higher risk of developing even higher LDL levels.
If, however, you do not have high cholesterol, taking fish oil is unlikely to raise your cholesterol levels so significantly that it makes you unhealthy. Ultimately, getting a yearly blood screening will ensure your cholesterol levels are still within healthy range while you take a supplement.
How To Lower Cholesterol
If fish oil is off the table because of purity concerns, their unpleasant taste, stomach distress, diarrhea, heartburn, risks of bleeding, or something else, what other remedies are you left with to decrease your cholesterol levels if you’ve been told you don’t have to take prescription medication? Here, we give you three suggestions that could help you lower your cholesterol naturally.
1. A Healthy Diet
You likely know you’ve got to make some dietary changes if you’re going to change your cholesterol numbers, but the “low-fat” diet may not be the solution. In fact, since America went low fat in the late 1970s, we’ve seen a massive increase in the occurrence of metabolic diseases like:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
A better diet starts with more fruits and vegetables, and smarter choices in terms of protein, fat sources, and carbohydrates.
(We’ve got plenty of information available on our blog to help you clean up your diet and make better choices!)
2. Get Moving
You won’t be able to fix your unhealthy cholesterol with diet alone. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you’ll have to get moving.
A healthy activity level consists of at least 150-225 minutes of heart-pumping cardiovascular activity per week (about a half hour most days per week), accompanied by strength training several times per week.
While you get physically active and build muscle, you’ll also burn more calories and likely lose weight; a convenient side-effect you can be happy about if you need to shed some pounds.
3. Try a Different Fatty Acid
The omega fatty acids were discovered in 1929 by Mildred and George Burr, a husband and wife team. Fast forward 90 years, and another husband and wife doctor/scientist team discovered a new essential fatty acid. It's called pentadecanoic acid, or C15:0 for short.
C15:0 is an odd-chain saturated fatty acid that a growing body of evidence supports as an essential fatty acid that strengthens are cells and helps us live healthier, longer lives.*
Pentadecanoic Acid: How It Works
In the late 1970s, dietary guidelines were issued to the entire population in response to the epidemic of heart disease. The message? Eat less fat. We listened, and four decades later, heart disease is still the number one killer of Americans.
Turns out, not all fat is bad for us, and by reducing all types of fat in our diet, we created a nutritional deficiency that left us sick, tired, and, and less healthy.
C15:0 is found mostly in milkfat, which is why many of us don’t have enough of it in our diets. The problem is, we ideally want to get the healthy saturated fats without the bad ones.
C15:0 helps keep our cells healthy by:
- Supporting cell membranes. This sturdy fatty acid gets into the cellular membrane and strengthens it, keeping it safe from external stressors.
- Increasing mitochondrial function. C15:0 has been shown to increase the energy source in our cells (their mitochondria) by 45%. When our cells have more energy, they can perform more cellular functions.
C15:0 also works to balance metabolism, immunity, mood, sleep, and even appetite. By activating special receptors in the body called PPARs that control these functions, C15:0 helps us to maintain homeostasis.
Bringing C15:0 back into our diet can help us lead healthier, more balanced lives, but we may want to get just the good C15:0 fat without cows and calories. Thankfully, there’s a solution.
Fatty15 for Healthy Cholesterol
Fish oil is fishy. Fatty15 is pure, vegan-friendly, and contains just one simple ingredient: FA15™.
This easy-to-take, science-backed essential fatty acid is easy to take and won’t ever leave you with an undesirable aftertaste.
Fatty15 helps you get the good fat back in your diet, so you can take care of your cells and support a healthy—well, everything. By putting this cell-nourishing fatty acid back in your body, you give your cells a fighting chance against the biggest factors that make us age.
You’ve already got the willpower to make changes, grab the science-backed, award-winning, patented fatty acid supplement that helps you feel healthier and age smarter.*
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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