Fish Oil, Cod Liver Oil and PCOS

Fish oil may be an important addition to your diet.

It contains essential fatty acids, or EFAs. They are "essential" because you must have them for life, and your body cannot manufacture them. You must obtain them from your diet.

EFAs serve as a highly efficient source of energy and as the primary component of cell membranes and hormones. Deficiencies in EFAs are associated with abnormal development and health problems involving the nervous, cardiovascular, and immune systems.

The two most important EFAs in human health are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The typical American consumes too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil contains high levels of omega 3 fatty acids.

Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory whereas some other fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. For example, arachadonic fatty acid is pro-inflammatory. Arachidonic acid dominates the average diet (meat and dairy), and without omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, this balance tips in favor of inflammation, pain, and blood vessel constriction.

Woman with PCOS Restores Normal Cycle with Fish Oil

Hello, I just wanted to make a quick comment about fish oil. I have had PCOS since I was sixteen years old. I am now 24. I have struggled greatly with all sorts of symptoms, including a COMPLETE lack of a period for the first two years of diagnosis.

I have never taken birth control, as I personally don't like the idea. So, when I was eighteen, I saw a holistic doctor.

He put me on fish oil, and the following month I had my period!

I have discovered that if I do not take fish oil, I will not have a period, but if I do take it, I will have one. So, if any woman with PCOS out there is doubting the effectiveness of taking fish oil, it is definitely worth trying.

-- Amanda L., Ohio

Fish Oil Benefits for PCOS

Women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) have a number of symptoms that can be partially allieviated by omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.

  • Insulin resistance
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Higher risk of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood fats (high triglycerides)
  • Higher risk of diabetes
  • Depression
  • Stress
High Quality Fish Oil Is Available Here

The Evidence for Fish Oil

Insulin Resistance. Insulin resistance is a primary cause of PCOS. It's not established that fish oil can directly reduce insulin resistance. However, there is one study of 12 overweight men and women who had insulin resistance. They were given DHA (a component of fish oil) for 12 weeks. 70% of the participants showed a decrease in insulin resistance.(1) In rats, insulin resistance was reduced by substituting fish oil for vegetable and animal fats in their diet.(2)

Inflammation. Women with PCOS have a greater tendency toward inflammation than other women. There is also an association between insulin resistance and inflammation.(3) A primary value of fish oil is that is helps to reduce inflammation.(4)

Heart Disease. Among women, a higher consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease.(5)

High blood pressure. Omega 3 oils may help to reduce hypertension.(6)

High Triglycerides. Many women with PCOS have high triglycerides, a blood fat that indicates insulin problems that could lead eventually to diabetes. Fish oil has been shown to consistently lower triglycerides.(7)

Diabetes Risk. Omega 3 oil can reduce the risk of diabetes by reducing triglycerides without impairing glucose tolerance.(8)

It improves the rate of glycogen storage and enhances insulin secretion from beta cells in the pancreas.(9,10) Both of these actions improve glucose and insulin control.

Depression. Decreased omega-3 fatty acid consumption correlates with increasing rates of depression.(11)

Stress. Chronic stress leads to overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn increases insulin resistance. Fish oil blunts the "stress response".(12)

All in all, omega 3 oil is likely to be beneficial to women with PCOS and ovarian cysts.

What Are Good Dietary Sources?

Wild, cold-water ocean fish are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Good dietary sources of fish oil are: herring, cod liver, salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, black cod and albacore tuna.

Oil Supplements

If your diet is not rich in cold-water ocean fish, you may need to take a fish oil supplement.

You have two basic choices: cod liver oil, or EPA/DHA capsules.

Cod liver oil. Cod liver oil contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Cod liver oil is especially high in the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Cod liver oil also contains a significant amount of vitamins A and D. On average, 20 milliliters of cod liver oil contains 1.8 grams EPA, 2.2 grams DHA, 15,000 IU vitamin A, and 1,500 IU vitamin D.

Cod liver oil can have a fishy taste and might cause belching, nosebleeds, halitosis, or heartburn in some people. Gastrointestinal side effects can be minimized if cod liver oil is taken with meals and if doses are started low and gradually increased.

EPA/DHA fish oil capsules. People who are concerned about their caloric intake may prefer to take EPA/DHA capsules, which has the same benefit as cod liver oil, but is much more concentrated and has far fewer fat calories. Moreover, if fish oil is disagreeable to you, you can take less of it and get the same effect by taking EPA/DHA capsules.

EPA/DHA capsules also do not contain vitamins A and D, which may be toxic in high doses for some people.

High Quality Fish Oil Is Available Here

How Much Should You Take?

The amount of fish oil you need depends on your diet and health status. Please consult with one of our physicians about the amount that is best for you.

Cod liver oil. In general, between 20-30 milliliters of cod liver oil may be used.

EPA/DHA capsules. In general, 3-12 grams of EPA/DHA capsules may be taken up to four times a day, depending on your condition and body size.

Toxicity and Drug Interactions

Any unsaturated oil, including fish oil, can become rancid if exposed to heat, light or oxygen. Rancid oils are very unhealthy because they contain free radical molecules that damage your cells. To prevent possible free radical damage, you should also take an antioxidant formula that includes vitamin E.

Excessive vitamin A and D is possible with too much cod liver oil. Pregnant women and women who are trying to become pregnant must be careful about excessive intake of vitamin A due to its potential effect on the fetus. Fish oils extracted from non-liver sources are usually not a problem. Check the label of your product for its vitamin A and D content.

Fish oil may increase homocysteine concentrations and nitric oxide metabolism in healthy humans. At excessive levels, these substances can tip you in the direction of inflammation and oxidant stress (free radical damage to your cells). You can control this potential problem with a high-quality B-complex vitamin that includes folate and vitamin B12.

Fish oil, especially in large doses over a period of time, has a blood-thinning effect and thus affect bleeding time. The thinner your blood, the longer it usually takes the bleeding to stop if you have a wound. If you're on a blood thinning medication (aspirin, coumadin, etc.), consult with your physician before taking fish oil or EPA/DHA capsules.

Fish have no refuge from environmental pollution and most have become contaminated to some extent with mercury, dioxins, and other petrochemicals. When oil is extracted from fish, the chemicals come along with the oil. In addition, if too much heat is used during processing, free radical peroxides will be present in the oil. Therefore you should be very selective when purchasing any oil product.

Buy fish oil only from reputable companies who have verified by independent laboratory analysis that their product is free from chemical contamination and peroxides.

You can generally obtain the highest quality fish oil from a licensed naturopathic physician, or from our PCOS Supplements Store.

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