Cholesterol, a fat-like, waxy substance that can be found in the body cells, is an important substance. It helps in the production of various hormones and vitamins and also helps in the digestion of food.
However, despite its important role in the body functions, it is also very important to keep the levels of cholesterol under check. Cholesterol is carried into the bloodstream through small packages that are known as the lipoproteins, which are mainly formed by protein in the outside and lipid or fat on the inside. These lipoproteins come in two different kinds –
- LDL or Low Density Lipoproteins
- HDL or High Density Lipoproteins
Usually the LDL is called the “bad” cholesterol as it leads to the heart and blocks the arteries. The HDL on the other hand is called the “good” cholesterol as it takes the cholesterol to the liver and gradually, gets removed from the body.
High Cholesterol and its Impact on Health
Many people have a high cholesterol level in their blood. There is no usual sign or symptom of having high blood cholesterol and that is why, people who have high blood cholesterol, do not realize their health condition. However, having high blood cholesterol leads to the possibilities of various diseases including coronary heart disease, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, stroke or heart attack etc. Therefore, it is a must that you keep a check on your blood cholesterol.
There are many medicines and supplements that are actually quite helpful in keeping the cholesterol level in check. However, it must also be kept in mind that these medicines and supplements are meant for lowering the blood cholesterol level and not for treating the diseases that are caused by high blood cholesterol level.
Does Fish Oil Lower Cholesterol?
Lot of confusion and controversies surround cholesterol, what increases its level and what can lower its level. One ingredient that is commonly heard to be effective in lowering cholesterol is fish oil. However, the fact is, fish oil consumed from direct servings of fish or even fish oil supplements cannot lower cholesterol level.
What fish oil and fish oil supplements can help in is in lowering the triglyceride level. Triglyceride is another type of fat or lipid that the body stores, by converting the fat that we consume through food from outside. While the body can produce cholesterol, it cannot produce triglyceride. Triglyceride is only a form of fat that the body stores by transforming the calories that we consume.
Cholesterol is needed to produce hormones and do many other physiological tasks; but, triglyceride is only the extra calories that are stored in the form of fat.
Usually, the body utilizes the calories that we consume in producing energy while we eat. The extra calories are stored in the form of triglyceride, in the fat cells of the body. When the body is not supplied with food (the period between meals), the body uses the triglyceride to produce energy. Hence, if the body is supplied with more “easy” calories like the calories from carbohydrate or fat, the body fails to utilize all the triglyceride that it has converted. Thus, the triglyceride is stored in the body, increasing health risks, especially risks of heart diseases.
Fish oil is rich in Omega 3 fatty acid, a vital ingredient that is very useful in lowering the triglyceride level in the body. Thus, it has a great impact in keeping the fat storage (in the form of triglyceride) in the body low. Hence, people can lower the risk of heart diseases that is caused by high fat deposition in the arteries.
Research Evidences of Benefits of Fish Oil
Research studies have shown that fish oil and fish oil supplements are very useful in reducing the risk of heart diseases by 18%. However, there is no evidence that fish oil can lower cholesterol levels. Oil of fishes like salmon, lake trout, mackerel, sardines, herring etc. is very rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
The most important Omega 3 Fatty Acids are EPA (Eicosa Pentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosa Hexaenoic Acid). These essential fatty acids are easily available from fish and fish oil. Though the body can make these, it requires some other fatty acids to be supplied to the body, so that the body can convert them into EPA and DHA. Hence, the easiest way to get them is through fish and fish oil. It is this fish oil that helps in reducing the triglyceride level and thus, lowers the risk of many other diseases. However, research studies have shown that excessive consumption of fish oil (EPA and DHA) can actually contribute in the increase of LDL or low density (bad) cholesterol. Therefore, it is always recommended that you consume the prescribed amount of fish oil supplements or stick to a moderate meal of two servings of fish in a week, in order to meet the body’s requirement of Omega 3 Fatty Acids.