Recent research points to bad news for those who believe fish oil supplements will cure all that ails them. A 2017 American Heart Association (AHA) science advisory report found that “only heart attack survivors and those who have already been diagnosed with heart failure seem to benefit from taking the supplements,” according to a Consumer Reports article by Sally Wadyka. Based our studies, there are other ways to obtain the healthy omega-rich oils without taking potentially dangerous omega fish oil supplements!

By Mike DuBose with Surb Guram, MD

Research confirms that a diet rich in omega-3s and omega-6s, such as the Mediterranean Diet, is the preferred route for your body to obtain these healthy fatty acids. Benefits of a diet rich in omega-3s and omega-6s may include an increase in HDL (“healthy cholesterol”); a reduction in triglycerides and LDL (“bad cholesterol”); lowered arrhythmia (AFib) risk; decreased plaque accumulation in the arteries (which can block blood flow, resulting in strokes and heart attacks); slightly lowered blood pressure; and decreased inflammation. There is also evidence that omega-rich diets can increase positive moods, lower depression, and improve arthritis symptoms. Some research indicates that these diets could slow the progress of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and even some cancers, but more study is needed. Good dietary sources of omega fatty acids include:

Fish: To promote heart health, the AHA recommends that individuals consume at least two 3.5-ounce servings of baked or broiled (not fried) fish each week. However, some types of fish may contain high levels of dangerous mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins, and other contaminants. Avoid eating large predator fish (such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish), which tend to be the most contaminated. Canned or fresh salmon, canned sardines, and Atlantic mackerel tend to have the highest omega-3 content and the lowest mercury levels. Other AHA-recommended fish include lake or rainbow trout, canned light tuna, anchovies, herring, flounder, pollock, farmed catfish, and cod. Some shellfish, including crabs, mussels, shrimp, and oysters, also are rich in omega-3’s. To add to fish’s omega benefits, it’s also a lean source of protein that is typically low in saturated fat and rich in other nutrients!

Plants, nuts, and oils: Walnuts, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, leafy green vegetables (including kale and spinach), brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kidney beans, soybeans, tofu, and soybean oil are naturally occurring plant-based sources of omega-3s.

Fortified foods: Some eggs, yogurt, milk, soy drinks, cereals, and oatmeal are fortified with omega fatty acids. Read the labels to make sure and consume these products in reasonable amounts.

Some people think of fish oil supplements as a “cure-all,” but unless you already have heart disease, research says that taking a daily fish oil supplement probably won’t help much. In fact, some individuals will experience more harm than good from fish oil! The better way to obtain the heart benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is to incorporate naturally omega-rich foods into your meals. Combine this healthy diet with daily exercise and adequate sleep, and you’ll increase your chances of living a longer, healthier, life! 

Mike DuBose—Visit his nonprofit website for a free copy of his book, The Art of Building a Great Business, and 100+ published business, travel, and personal articles, as well as health research written with Surb Guram, MD. Mike is a retired staff member with the University of South Carolina’s graduate school.

Surb Guram, MD is a board-certified internist and a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. He is a partner with the SC Internal Medicine Associates in Irmo, SC and has practiced internal medicine in the Midlands for the past 30 years. See for more information on Dr. Guram and his practice.