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Fish Oil & Cholesterol

by Vin Kutty, MS on March 6, 2012

Fish Oil & Cholesterol

The following frustrating conversation happens at least twice a week at our office.

Caller on phone: “Does your fish oil reduce cholesterol?”

Me: “No…it does not. Fish oil reduces triglycerides but it doesn’t reduce cholesterol significantly…”

Caller: “I need a fish oil brand that reduces my cholesterol. Oh well, I’ll keep looking for one that does.” Click.

This is frustrating on several levels. Not because they didn’t buy our product, but because of the decades of misinformation and fears that led to this discourse.

These callers usually have tried taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs after their doctors put them on it. But the statin side effects were so severe that they’ve quit taking it and are looking for other options.

I can sense the concern and even desperation in their voices. I don’t blame them!

They have high cholesterol. But their doctor’s fix – statin drugs – caused them severe muscle pains and mental fog.

Thanks to doctors and drug companies, cholesterol scares the bejessus out of people. Every 10 years or so, the ‘normal’ cholesterol range keeps getting reduced.

So I don’t blame the callers’ fear and concern.

They’ve heard good things about fish oil so they begin looking into it. That’s when they call us.

Fish oil doesn’t decrease cholesterol!

At least not dramatically. Like your Lipitor would.

If anyone’s told you otherwise, you’ve been misled.

Sorry.

I see it all the time. Just last week, I read a press release about a medical doctor launching his own brand of pharmaceutical grade fish oil.

The product’s web site and the product label prominently claimed their product would “lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.”

Whoa, Doc!

Fish oil cholesterol_International Journal of Cardiology

What the science says…

An analysis of 47 clinical trials showed that taking fish oils (about 3,000 mg of Omega-3 per day) showed the following results:

  1. Significant reduction of triglcyerides.
  2. No change in total cholesterol.
  3. Very slight increases in HDL and LDL cholesterol.
  4. And how much the triglycerides went down was dependent on how much EPA and DHA were consumed.

Published in the International Journal of Cardiology.

Some people notice a slight lowering of cholesterol after they start taking fish oil or krill oil.

Sure, Omega-3 tends to straighten things out in your metabolism a little bit. You might see a temporary 5 to 10% reduction if you’re lucky.

More often than not, the reduction is correlation and not causation.

Correlation, not causation

In other words, one does not cause the other, but the two are related. (Think ice cream and drowning. A few decades ago, some poindexter figured out that whenever ice cream sales went up, there was increased drowning in pools. He concluded that some protein in ice cream caused people to pass out while swimming. Folks panicked! Well, turns out that people eat ice cream when it’s hot and also go swimming when it’s hot. It was the hot weather-related swimming. Ice cream had nothing to do with it!)

Anyway, when people start taking fish oil, they’re generally concerned about health. They cut out junk food, sodas and cookies. This change in diet and lifestyle is the likely cause of lower cholesterol.

DHA Omega-3 increases both HDL and LDL

As a matter of fact, there is some research that shows that high DHA Omega-3 consumption can actually INCREASE your LDL cholesterol by about 10 to 15%. This is why the new triglyceride lowering drugs made from fish oil, like Amarin’s AMR-101, is all EPA. These new triglyceride-lowering drugs (not yet on the market) contain little or no DHA.

People are scared of LDL cholesterol.

Prescription Lovaza comes with a warning that it could increase LDL cholesterol.

So should you stop taking fish oil because of DHA? Good God, no!

LDL cholesterol is not all bad!

LDL has very important repair functions in your body and it is critical in maintaining your immunity. Simply calling LDL “bad” is silly. And avoiding DHA because it can raise LDL a tiny bit is even sillier.

The point I’m making is that fish oil may not reduce your cholesterol. But that is absolutely no reason not to take fish oil!

You take Omega-3 to:

  1. Help your body function well.
  2. Offset the inflammation caused by too much Omega-6 from vegetable oils.

The fact that it does not reduce cholesterol SHOULD NOT be a reason not to take Omega-3 supplements or eat fish.

Omega-3 reduces risk of death from cardiovascular causes by between 30 to 50%.

The Italian GISSI study says taking just 850 mg of EPA DHA Omega-3 per day showed a dramatic reduction of sudden death.

This risk reduction isn’t from cholesterol reduction.

The risk reduction comes from:

  • reduction in triglycerides
  • reduction in inflammation
  • providing antiarrhythmic properties
  • improved endothelial function

Keeping with the fish theme here, not taking fish oil because it does not reduce cholesterol is like judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree.

I think Einstein put it a little more eloquently…

einstein quote

Parting shot…this is comedy with an important message:

DISCLAIMER: This website is for your education and general health information only. The ideas and suggestions contained on this website are not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from your doctor for any health condition or problem. Users of this website should not rely on information provided on this website for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician.

Author Vin Kutty is an expert on fish oil About the Author: Vin Kutty is OmegaVia’s Scientific Advisor and Chief Blogger. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with over 20 years of experience. Email him.

pharmaceutical grade fish oil

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen T March 15, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Hello there, Mr. Vin Kutty:
I have just received my order of OmegaVia EPA 500 and I have a question if I may. I have done a lot of research before I decided to purchase from OmegaVia. The reason for the smaller pills is obviously because of the size, therefore I purchased the EPA500. My doctor’s advice for fish oil was due to my cholestrol. I spoke to your specialist by phone and I was told that by not having DHA in the fish oil, the risk of escalating LDL is better and he also suggested I should take 6 of them per day. Therefore, in your opinion, by taking the EPA500, is that good for me or would I be missing out some of the benefits by not taking the regular OmegaVia? Also, I decided to take 4 pills per day instead of 6. I consider myself having a pretty healthy diet in my humble opinion. My Total cholesterol is 219. Triglycerides is 109. HDL is 56 and LDL is 141.
I’d really like to hear back from you and I appreciate your opinion in advance. Thank You!

Reply

Vin Kutty March 16, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Hi Karen – the purpose of Omega-3 is to reduce inflamamtion. Yes, it reduces triglycerides too and does several other things. But the key reason to take it is for inflammation, which is at the root cause of several chronic health conditions. If you are taking Omega-3 to reduce cholesterol, you may be disappointed. Because total cholesterol is a mix of number of that are supposed to be both high and low. So your total cholesterol number of 219 tells me hardly anything, other than it is a perfectly common number to have if you are a woman over the age of, say, 40. It’s part of why I wrote this article titled ‘Cholesterol – when to panic':
http://www.omegavia.com/cholesterol-when-to-panic/
http://www.omegavia.com/fish-oil-cholesterol/

Yes, DHA by itself, can increase LDL cholesterol. EPA does not. But we shouldn’t panic about LDL increase from DHA yet because we don’t know if the LDL increase from DHA increases risk. I’m sorry that this is not simple or black and white.

If you have a good diet as you say, which should include a few egg yolks and some seafood every week, then you should be fine taking just the EPA 500. If you don’t eat eggs and seafood regularly, then you may want to consider taking regular OmegaVia. But if regular OmegaVia pills are too big, then you may want to try this product made by our sister company: http://www.amazon.com/Pharma-Grade-InnovixLabs-Concentrated-Burp-Free-Capsules/dp/B00F5ZV6W6/ This is a small, enteric-coated pill, just like EPA 500, but it has more DHA.

Reply

John October 27, 2014 at 2:13 am

My triglycerides are running about 400. I am in decent shape , not over weight, but do drink alcohol. My dr told me I need to start taking 4 gm of fish oil daily. So should I take three omega via?

Reply

Vin Kutty, MS November 3, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Hi John – yes, 3 OmegaVia per day will help. Most of our customers who take OmegaVia to manage triglycerides take 4 per day. TG decrease is dose dependent. But before you take any supplement, try reducing alcohol, soda, sweets, juices, and milk – basically any beverage with calories. Then go after anything that contains sugar or flour. These are the offending foods that are causing your dangerous triglyceride levels. Oh by the way, your doctor meant ‘4 grams of Omega-3′ not 4 grams of fish oil. Most fish oils are only 25-30% Omega-3, so 4 grams of fish oil would only get you about 1 grams of Omega-3, which is not enough to drop your TG.

Reply

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