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Can Fish Oil Lower Cholesterol?

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights

HIGHLIGHTS

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are commonly believed to help lower cholesterol. 

However, there’s actually a lack of evidence to support that omega-3s can lower cholesterol, and even some evidence showing one type of omega-3 actually raised total cholesterol. 

C15:0, a newly discovered as essential fatty acid, has been shown to support cholesterol homeostasis by binding to the receptors that orchestrate our metabolism.*

Many people start their day with a supplement to help support their health or fill in dietary gaps. One of the most popular supplements on the market is fish oil.

If you’re on a mission to lower your cholesterol, fish oil might not be the best option. Together, we’ll discuss why cholesterol levels are so important, the dangers of having high cholesterol, and whether or not fish oil can help keep your cholesterol levels in a healthy range.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is an important substance in your body. It helps maintain cell structure, helps synthesize vitamins, and is a building block of many of your hormones

Your liver can make cholesterol. Although you don’t generally need more cholesterol than what your liver makes, we often eat foods that naturally contain cholesterol. 

Types of Cholesterol

There are a few different types of cholesterol. If you get a lipid panel, a simple blood test your doctor can order, you’ll see measures for the different types of cholesterol in your body. 

Total Cholesterol

Your total cholesterol measures your low-density lipoprotein, high-density lipoprotein, and very low-density lipoprotein. This is a total measurement of the cholesterol in your blood. 

LDL Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol, also known as low-density lipoprotein, is known as your bad cholesterol. High LDL levels are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. 

HDL Cholesterol

HDL Cholesterol, also known as high-density lipoprotein, is referred to as your good cholesterol. The more HDL cholesterol you have, the lower your LDL cholesterol will be. Newer studies show however that you can also have too much HDL, so it's important to stay within a safe range. 

VLDL

VLDL cholesterol is also called very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. This type of cholesterol helps move triglycerides (fats) through your blood to tissues and organs that need them for bodily functions.

Healthy Cholesterol Numbers

Your healthcare provider uses your total cholesterol number and other important health markers to determine your risk factors for developing heart disease. 

Healthy cholesterol is often defined as a total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL. Anything above 249 mg/dL is considered high and puts you at an increased risk of heart disease. 

Lower cholesterol levels are associated with better heart health. 

Side Effects of High Cholesterol

Having high cholesterol is often symptom-free. In other words, you may not know you have high cholesterol unless you have a blood test. Uncontrolled high cholesterol can lead to heart disease, the number one cause of death among Americans. 

If you have high cholesterol, you may be looking for ways to lower it naturally and avoid taking statins (drugs that lower your cholesterol) if you are able. Enter dietary supplements like fish oil. 

What Is Fish Oil?

Fish oil is extracted from fish like herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, and trout. These fatty fish contain oil in their skin and tissue that contains important fatty acids. One of these fatty acids is essential to the human body — our bodies need it to function properly but can’t make it independently, meaning we have to include fatty acids in our diet or supplements. 

What’s Inside Fish Oil?

Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids. There are three specific omega-3 fatty acids, but fish oil only has two: DHA and EPA.

  • DHA. Docosahexaenoic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that helps develop nerve and eye tissue. Even though it is important, it’s not considered essential.
  • EPA. Eicosapentaenoic acid is another polyunsaturated fatty acid that prevents blood from clotting easily. It also has the effect of lowering triglyceride levels. EPA, too, is not considered essential. 
  • ALA. Alpha-linolenic acid is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid. It helps with human growth and development, which is why you’ll often find it infused into baby formula. Unfortunately, fish oil doesn’t contain ALA. 

Most of us get the omega-3s we need from our food. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, nuts, and some beans are all good sources.

Fish Oil and Cholesterol

Studies of fish oil and its link to your cholesterol show conflicting evidence that may make you question whether omega-3 supplements are right for you. 

  • Some studies show that fish oil doesn’t lower cholesterol. In fact, in at least one study, clinical trials revealed that fish oil raised dangerous LDL cholesterol levels. 
  • In these studies, EPA did not affect cholesterol, but DHA did. It raised overall cholesterol levels, something your cardiologist doesn’t want to see.
  • Another study showed that fish oil helped raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels and increased the size of LDL cholesterol particles. This finding is beneficial because smaller LDL particles place you at a higher risk of atherosclerosis (the build-up of cholesterol in your blood vessels).

Because there are conflicting reports on whether or not fish oil supplements can help support healthy cholesterol levels, it might not be worth the risk. In addition to not delivering the benefits you want, many fish oil supplements can contain some additional, unwanted ingredients. 

Blends of different fish oils, preservatives, and synthetic oils marketed as fish oil may end up in your capsules, and later, inside your body. Fish oil can also have side effects

If you take large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, you can develop negative health markers like:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Excessive bleeding when injured
  • Increased risk of bruising easily
  • Thinning blood

Another unfortunate side effect? The fishy aftertaste. 

Why not look for a better way to help manage your cholesterol levels, and improve your overall health?

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How To Keep Cholesterol Levels Healthy

Simple lifestyle changes may be all you need to help support healthy cholesterol and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Of course, you should always seek medical advice from your doctor on the best ways to support your wellness.

Diet

A heart-healthy diet is essential for keeping your cholesterol levels in a healthy range. Because we know ALA is an essential omega-3 fatty acid, increasing your intake of oily fish, nuts, and flaxseed can help you get what you need. 

Dietary sources of omega-3 are easier for your body to absorb and can also help encourage you to eat a more balanced diet. 

Exercise

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each week. A sedentary lifestyle reduces the amount of circulating good HDL cholesterol in your body. 

A Different Fatty Acid

Fatty acid supplementation is a good thing, but there’s a lesser-known fatty acid that supports your cellular health and healthy cholesterol levels, without the unpleasant fishy side effects.

C15:0, also known as pentadecanoic acid, is an odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that science supports as the first essential fatty acid to be discovered since omega-3 (over 90 years ago!). 

C15:0 Support For Your Cells

The discovery of C15:0 as an essential fatty acid with multiple health benefits came from an unlikely place.

While helping dolphins live healthier and longer lives,veterinary epidemiologist Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson found that some geriatric dolphins had fewer age-related illnesses than others.

She found that higher circulating levels of C15:0 were responsible for many of the health benefits seen in the healthiest dolphins. She went further, looking into the health benefits of this molecule in human populations, and three years later, published her findings in Nature's Scientific Reports in 2020.

Here’s how C15:0 supports your cells in several important ways.

Mitochondrial Function

As we age, our mitochondria get slower, making it harder for our cells to function properly. C15:0 increases mitochondrial function by up to 45%, keeping our cells functioning like they did when we were younger.*

Cell Membranes

As cells age, their membranes get weak, leaving them susceptible to external stressors and even cellular death. Aging cells have a domino effect on our health, causing tissues, organs, and bodily systems to slow down.

C15:0 is a sturdy fatty acid that integrates into cell membranes to fortify them.*

Cholesterol

Higher levels of C15:0 are associated with healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as improved heart health.* C15:0 naturally binds to receptors found throughout our bodies, called PPARs (pronounced pee-pars), that help to regulate our metabolism, mood, sleep and appetite, including our cholesterol and glucose homeostasis.* The result? Support for cholesterol and glucose homeostasis.*

How To Get C15:0 

C15:0 is found in trace amounts in whole-fat dairy products, some fish, and plants. Dietary guidelines telling us to avoid fat, especially saturated fats, in addition to the recent trend in plant-based milks (which are deficient in C15:0) have dramatically decreased our circulating levels of C15:0. Further, our levels of C15:0 decline as we age.

Why can’t you just eat more foods that contain C15:0? Increasing your intake of whole dairy products can mean excess calories, sugars, and unhealthy fats. Not all fats are created equal. 

One solution is fatty15.

Fatty15: No Fishy Business

Fatty15 contains just one ingredient: the pure-powder, vegan-friendly, sustainably-produced, award-winning version of C15:0. Just one capsule contains 100mg of this essential fatty acid (i.e. way less than the several thousands of milligrams you’d need for omega-3 supplementation). 

Another bonus? You’ll never have to worry about an unpleasant fishy aftertaste or the associated gastric upset, and you’ll get the benefit of cells that start acting more like they did when you were younger.* Imagine how you’d feel if every cell in your body aged in reverse — while fatty15 doesn’t quite do that, it can help support the systems to help you feel younger and age on your own terms.*

Making sure your cholesterol is well-managed is essential, and you can do it with a few simple lifestyle adjustments and the right fatty acid supplement to support your body. 

Ready to get started with fatty15? Click here.

Sources:

What is Cholesterol? | American Heart Association

High cholesterol - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Overview of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Therapies | PMC

Effect of fish oil supplementation on serum triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and LDL subfractions in hypertriglyceridemic adults | PubMed

Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia) | American Heart Association

Efficacy of dietary odd-chain saturated fatty acid pentadecanoic acid parallels broad associated health benefits in humans: could it be essential? | Scientific Reports (nature.com)

Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

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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