There's Something Fishy Going On Here!

by DavalosMcCormack on February 9, 2009

When I was at university in England one of my room mates was a lad from Sunderland. Ted was a real character. One of the ugliest people I have ever met, uglier than me even, and one of the most engaging. What was particularly fascinating was that he had a thick ‘Geordie’ accent so it was almost impossible to understand a word he said, yet somehow he managed to charm us all.

Ted is also the fellow who introduced me to the delights, or lack thereof, of fish oil.

First thing every morning Ted would have a tablespoon of Cod Liver Oil. He swore by it, said it was like lubrication for the joints. It made sense to me so I started doing the same thing. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted – ok, second most disgusting, jellied eel is still the worst – but if Ted said it was good for you I for one wasn’t going to argue.

Fast forward 30 years and science and the rest of the world have finally caught up with Ted. Now almost as many Americans take a fish oil supplement as take a multi-vitamin, and with good reason; there’s a growing body of evidence to show it’s good for you.

Let’s take the most recent example. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center say that taking fish oil supplements helped this year’s Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The study randomly assigned 36 Steelers between the ages of 23 and 41 to take highly purified fish capsules or a placebo for 60 days.

Those who took the fish oil raised their HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, by 26 percent. The control group who got the placebo only saw their HDL go up by 14 percent – which is still not too shabby for a sugar pill.

Interestingly the fish oil group saw the triglyceride level go down 8 percent while the placebo group saw their levels rise 44 percent. Triglycerides are a kind of fat found in the body and high levels have been linked with greater risk of heart disease.

The only thing the researchers didn’t say was whether the placebo produced the same burpy fishy taste that fish oil does. If not, maybe the folks who got the placebo knew it was a fake! I’ll get back to the burpy bit later.

The researchers who did the Steelers study say that the fish oil may help improve athletic performance because it is an anti-inflammatory agent that has been shown to help injuries heal faster, improve your attention span and reaction time – all pretty useful things for an athlete.

The only question mark about the findings is that some of the researchers had received funding at one time or another from the company making the fish oil supplement used in the study, and one even served on the Scientific Advisory Board for the company. Does that mean they skewed the findings? Absolutely not, but it’s better to know where even a small potential conflict of interest occurs.

So, back to the fishy burp side of this.

If you’ve ever taken fish oil supplements you know that sometimes they backfire on you. Literally. You are walking along, minding your own business, when you burp and your mouth is filled with this awful, rancid fish flavor. Urgggghhhhh.

But the February issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter has some great tips on how to avoid that.

1) Swallow the capsules frozen. Cool eh! Apparently freezing them slows down the breakdown of the oil in the stomach, helping you avoid the burpy aftermath

2) Take the supplement with food. That will trap it in the stomach and block the backwash. You could even go to McDonald’s and get an order of fries so you can have fish and chips for lunch!

3) Try and odorless version. But then, where’s the fun in that.

4) Switch brands. Different brands affect different people different ways. If the one you take is causing you to burp up fishy flavors regularly, try another.

Or you could just try and get it the old fashioned way. By eating more fish. What a novel concept eh!

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