You’re probably tired of reading about omega-3 fatty acids, which mounds of medical research have linked to everything from mellower arthritis pain to stronger DNA. In most cases, the health benefits revolve around omega-3’s ability to quell inflammation. But do fish oil supplements match the anti-inflammation benefits of fish—nature’s omega-3 champ? Maybe not, suggests research published in the journal Metabolism.
An Australian study team split 28 overweight people into two groups. While members of one group forked down roughly 20 ounces of fish per week for 1 month, the others swallowed daily supplements containing nearly 2,000 mgs of omega-3. Before and after the study period, the researchers measured each person’s levels of a hormone called adiponectin, which past studies have tied to lower inflammation. Here’s what they discovered: While total adiponectin levels jumped roughly 12 percent among the fish eaters, the supplement group experienced no adiponectin boost, the research shows. This is significant since low levels of adiponectin are a precursor to Type-2 diabetes.
Although these findings are preliminary, eating fish seems to provide a stronger anti-inflammation advantage than popping fish oil supplements, says study co-author Elizabeth Neale, PhD, who conducted her research at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales. Why? Fish are loaded with other healthy nutrients, including vitamin D, protein, and selenium—all of which have been tied to various health benefits. “I believe the synergy of all these ingredients in fish are more effective than fish oil, which features only a single nutrient,” Neale explains.
So should you toss out your omega-3 supplements? Absolutely NOT, Neale says. “There are large amounts of evidence highlighting the benefits of omega-3 both from whole fish and from supplements,” she says. And while snacking on salmon may provide more anti-inflammation assistance, Neale says many people struggle to eat large amounts of fish on a regular basis, and so supplements are a great way to boost your omega-3 intake.
It’s too early to make dietary recommendations based on her research, Neale says. But she supports the guidelines published by Australia’s Heart Foundation, which advise you to eat 15 ounces of oily fish—such as salmon, lake trout, or herring—every week. But that’s a lot of fish. (In comparison, the American Heart Association suggests eating two 3.5-ounce servings of fish per week.) For those who can’t (or don’t want to) eat so many fish-y meals, Neale recommends a daily omega-3 dietary supplement. New Chapter and Nordic Naturals manufacture two good options. Foods like walnuts and flaxseeds are also great omega-3 sources, Neale adds.