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Menopause Corner
Menopause Corner

Wendy Hoffman blogs about menopause and women's health—particularly focusing on how diet and nutrition can positively affect a woman's life around the age of menopause.

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Our Grandmothers Were Right: Fish Oil Is Good For You

If you ask your physician which five dietary supplements offer the most health benefits, there’s a good chance that fish oil will be at the top of her list. We’ve come a long way since our grandmothers touted the powers of cod liver oil. I doubt they knew the importance of essential fatty acids or “good fats” in our diets, but they intuitively knew that a little bit of this type of oil, taken daily, would inoculate us against most ills.

If you’re interested in supplementing your diet with fish oil, you’ll need to do a little research to figure out what type of product fits your needs. The choices can be bewildering. On a recent visit to Pharmaca, an integrative pharmacy chain found in the Western states, I was frankly confused and exasperated by all the fish oil that’s on the market. There’s oil from several different types of fish. Is one better than another?  There are also numbers to know about: Omega 3s, 6s and 9s. Which one is most important? Then there’s the question of formulation. Do you want more DHA or EPA?  Liquid or capsules?  And the claims! Can one supplement really offer so many health benefits from “radiant skin and hair” to reducing joint pain and preventing heart disease?

To get to the bottom of this, I recently spoke to Dr. Tori Hudson, a Naturopathic Doctor who  knows a thing or two about fish oil.  She’s the author of several books on women’s health including The Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine and Menopause: Maintain Health and Vitality. She also is on the advisory board of Nordic Naturals, which makes and distributes more than 150 Fish Oil products. Here’s a summary of what I learned:

Fish Oil Benefits

  • Fish oil can help with hot flashes. It’s not a cure, but two recent studies showed a significant reduction in frequency. 
  • It also promotes healthy bones by increasing the absorption of calcium and reducing how much calcium gets secreted.
  • When it comes to cardiovascular health, fish oil helps by lowering cholesterol levels; and reducing the risk of heart disease as well as preventing its progression in those who already have CV issues. It may also slow the progression of atherosclerosis, thus preventing heart attacks.
  • Fish oil can be helpful in certain kinds of arrhythmias, or irregular heart beats, a not uncommon complaint of women during the menopause transition.
  • DHA is particularly beneficial during pregnancy for fetal brain and eye development. In our later years, it supports brain aging and depression and also helps prevent macular degeneration. Women experiencing memory issues, or mood swings during menopause would benefit from from a Fish Oil that is heavier on the DHA than the EPA. 
  • On the other hand, if you’re complaining of joint pain (inflammation)you’d want more EPA than DHA.

Buyer Beware

When it comes to fish oil, Dr. Hudson told me that you definitely get what you pay for. 

“You have to consider taste, rancidity, freshness and purity,” she said.  “What contaminants have been tested for and removed? Potency is another issue that suffers when you buy lower quality fish oil. “It’s often lower in cheaper brands,” she added.

ConsumerLab.com recently tested 24 Fish Oil products and only 17 of them passed quality testing, meeting requirements for freshness and purity and containing their claimed amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids. Three of them were found to be spoiled.

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About the Author

Wendy writes about women's health in midlife.