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Nurturing Human Intelligence: Exploring Fish Oil’s Evolutionary Impact

fish oil

Fish Oil Manufacturing

Through a process called molecular distillation, quality supplement manufacturers produce fish oil that is highly concentrated, free of heavy metal contamination, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs – which have been associated with deficits in fetal and postnatal growth).

A well-respected consumer laboratory tested a variety of brands of fish oil supplements and found that while the labeled quantity of EPA/DHA was not always at the level claimed, no brand had detectable levels of toxins like mercury, PCBs, or other contaminants.

It was also determined that toxins are more likely to accumulate in the fish flesh rather than in the oil.

Word of Caution

One warning about any fish or fish oil products–they need to be handled correctly. Omega-6 and omega-3 lipids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

Because of the unsaturated nature of PUFAs, they are prone to oxidation, which makes them rancid. In this form, they become potential initiators of chain reactions that can lead to the oxidation of fat and cholesterol molecules in the body.

This lipid peroxidation process is thought to be involved in atherosclerosis, cancer, and inflammation. Ever notice that not-so-fresh fish has a strong unpleasant odor? That is a sign the oil in the fish has turned rancid.

Even relatively safe fish oil supplements need to be protected from heat and exposure to air. I keep mine refrigerated and never order fish oil by mail during summer.

Fish Oil and Human Evolution

To understand just how important fish oil is, we need to go back in time–some 150,000 years ago. For millions of years, our primate ancestors existed without any marked increase in intelligence or dominance among animals.

About 150,00 years ago, the earth was much cooler and our ancestors consisted of Neanderthals, who migrated to Europe, and another three species remaining in Africa.

Neanderthals adapted to the cold by becoming more muscular, shorter, and stockier to conserve heat. Our hapless ancestors in East Africa, on the other hand, were a dying species, with their numbers dwindling to less than 10,000.

Two of the three species, one gathering fruits, berries, eggs, and the occasional rodent for sustenance, and the other, a larger-toothed species eating a fibrous plant diet, passed into extinction.

Then quite suddenly, the third group of those evolutionarily unsuccessful early humans, now living in the East African Rift Valley, made a sudden and spectacular intellectual leap.

All early humans inherited a frontal cortex from the ape family of primates. But evolution alone would not cause such a dramatic increase in the size of this part of the brain, which was necessary for the rational thinking and reasoning skills that enabled these African ancestors to adapt to and even restructure their environment.

The Neanderthals and 97% of the apes disappeared; today only chimpanzees, apes, and orangutans remain and have changed very little over the last 150,000 years.

Significant evidence suggests that what caused the third group, Homo habilis, to gain thinking skills with incredible speed, enabling their eventual domination over all other species, was something in their diet: brain food.

They were omnivores, eating fruits, vegetables, and meat, but while other primate ancestors hunted and foraged on the African Savannah or in the forests of moderate climates, our immediate ancestors discovered shellfish in abundance on the shores of the lakes in the East African Rift Valley.

This East African lake diet of shellfish caused a burst of growth in the frontal cortex. The shellfish dined on marine algae, single-celled organisms that were unique in their ability to synthesize a rare type of fat, Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFA), in particular, DHA–brain food.

DHA is crucial for neural tissue development because only DHA can stimulate the growth of nerve cells. EPA, the other EFA in fish oil, is invaluable for hormonal balance and good health.

About 40,000 years ago, Cro-Magnon man experienced another leap in cognitive development, causing an explosion in tool making as well as art, theology, and social behavior.

This leap coincided with learning to catch fish, which no other creature with a developed frontal cortex had managed to do. Being higher up in the aquatic food chain, fish had even higher concentrations of Omega-3 EFA.

No doubt, the ability to make tools was further enhanced by the ability to walk upright with free hands, another gift from the apes. As they say, the rest is history.

Benefits of Fish Oil

An excess of Omega-6 fatty acids can lead to the formation of blood clots, allergic and inflammatory disorders, and accelerated growth of certain cancer cells.

On the other hand, fish oils either from whole fish or in the form of supplements have been found to aid in preventing or ameliorating coronary heart disease, stroke, lupus, nephropathy (kidney disorders), Crohn’s disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, and other disorders caused by inflammation.

The American Heart Association guidelines recommend the benefits of the consumption of fish and fish oil.

They recommend two servings per week for healthy persons and a daily serving of fish or fish oil supplement containing at least 900 mg of fish oil for persons with heart disease.

Researched (Proven) Benefits of Fish Oil

  • Protection against cardiovascular disease

The ability of fish oil to reduce inflammation is a significant factor in preventing and relieving cardiovascular disease.

Subjects who eat even relatively small amounts of fish are considerably less likely to die from heart disease.

Fish oils have been found particularly effective in preventing heart arrhythmias and sudden death from cardiac arrest.

Several studies have shown that people who eat fish once or more each week can reduce their risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) by 50-70%.

Furthermore, German medical researchers recently released the results of a major study, indicating fish oil supplementation is highly beneficial to patients suffering from atherosclerosis.

Numerous studies have shown that fish oil supplementation lowers the levels of very-low-density-lipoprotein (VLDL) and blood triglycerides (fats) known to be risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

At the same time, fish oil has little effect on the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol. When apple pectin, a natural fiber, was added to the treatment, triglycerides, and VLDL cholesterol levels were both lowered by 38%, total cholesterol levels decreased by 13%, and LDL cholesterol dropped by 7%.

Fish oil and fiber are a potent combination for improving blood lipid profiles.

Fish oils make blood more fluid and allow it to flow more freely, even in areas with some arterial constriction.

It’s this fluidity that helps fish in the cold arctic waters remain flexible and supple—antifreeze for the blood.

Fish oil promotes the breakdown of fibrin, a substance implicated in the development of clots and scars.

  • Reduction in platelet aggregation

Fish oil helps avoid thrombosis (blood clots) because it prevents platelets (the smallest cells in the blood) from sticking together and forming blood clots.

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can make blood platelets less “sticky,” reducing the chance of clotting in blood vessels.

  • Blood pressure reduction

Fish oils (omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids) consumed on a regular basis can dramatically reduce blood pressure in hypertensive individuals.

The effect of fish oils is equivalent to the benefit of lowering salt and losing weight.

The impact was shown to be more apparent at higher blood pressure, whereas there were no significant effects in those with normal blood pressure.

In individuals with borderline hypertension who would otherwise be candidates for traditional medication therapy, fish oil supplementation may be a useful therapy.

Fish oil helps to lower heart rates and prevent arrhythmias (disturbances of the normal rhythm in the heart’s beating), thus reducing the chance of sudden death by a heart attack.

Fish consumption is associated with a lower heart rate in men.

Because a higher heart rate is associated with the risk of sudden death, fish oil reduces the risk of sudden death by lowering heart rate.

Fish oil has the potential to ease multiple sclerosis, lupus, psoriasis, asthma, and diabetes, all of which are related to a faulty immune system.

Extensive testing showed that more than 40% of the participants in a University of Wyoming study experienced a significant improvement in their breathing ability and better resistance to asthma attacks while on a diet high in fish oil.

Researchers from the University of Sydney discovered that eating oily fish on a daily basis was related to a much lower chance of getting asthma as a kid.

Crohn’s disease is distinguished by periods of active disease followed by periods of remission.

Now researchers have concluded that fish oil therapy (with enteric-coated capsules) is effective in preventing relapses in patients with Crohn’s disease in remission.

Fish-eating societies have fewer cases of breast cancer, and there are indications fish oil may also inhibit the growth of colon, pancreas, and prostate tumors, as well.

Omega-3 EFA may help prevent cancer, and no evidence at all suggests that they promote it.

Some limited evidence suggests Omega-6 EFA (linoleic acid) may be involved in the imitation or promotion of cancer.

Greek medical researchers reported fish oil supplementation markedly increased the survival time for cancer patients with generalized malignancy.

They found that dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation, especially fish oils combined with an antioxidant like vitamin E, may provide considerable palliative support to cancer patients with end-stage metastatic illness.

  • Relief from a variety of inflammatory ailments

Fish oil supplements containing EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) have an anti-inflammatory effect, and in fact, fish oil has a long history of relieving the pain of arthritis.

Corticosteroids, aspirin, and other anti-inflammatory medicines block the activity of enzymes that produce “bad” eicosanoids (overproduction of “bad” eicosanoids is a root cause of chronic pain), as well as “good” eicosanoids to some extent.

High-dose fish oil reduces the actual building block (arachidonic acid or AA) required to produce those “bad” eicosanoids and promotes the production of “good” eicosanoids.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota reported that smokers who ate fish regularly were much less likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPDs) such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Researchers at the University of Sydney found that daily supplementation with fish oil capsules alleviated many of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

The Australian researchers believed that EPA (from fish oil) acted by modifying the role of leukotriene B4.

Leukotriene B4 is thought to be the main culprit in the excessive inflammatory response to bacteria that characterizes cystic fibrosis.

The single most significant dietary cause for increased incidences of a multitude of mental illnesses in humans may be the disappearance of the long-chain molecule EFA–DHA from our diet.

At one time in balance, the ratio of omega-6 EFA over omega-3 EFA is now as high as 20:1.

Earlier, I explained how the abundance of DHA in the diet of our ancestors living in the East African Rift Valley was the cause for the rapid growth in the cerebral cortex and the eventual dominance of modern man on this planet.

Our DHA-starved brains are now subject to a variety of ailments including depression, bipolar disease, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, postpartum depression, dementia, memory loss, visual problems, and schizophrenia.

One common clinical observation of patients with any of the above ailments is significantly low levels of Omega-3 EFA.

One of the benefits of high-dose fish oil is an increase in serotonin levels: low serotonin is strongly associated with depression.

Additionally, clinically depressed patients exhibit patterns of decreased blood flow in the brain, and high-dose fish oil can improve blood flow.

Finally, fish oils cause a reduction in arachidonic acid (AA), which promotes the production of “bad” eicosanoids present in higher levels in the spinal fluid of depressed patients.

In a 2002 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, Joseph R. Hibbeln reported, “Rates of postpartum depression is 50 times higher in countries where women don’t eat fish.” A seven-year study of 815 nursing home residents—131 of whom developed the brain-robbing disease of Alzheimer’s—found those who reported eating fish at least once a week had a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s, compared to those who rarely or never ate fish.

Experts generally believe that bipolar disorder involves an overactivity in the neuronal signal pathways.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to dampen this overactivity, and the hypothesis has been advanced that omega-3s may be useful in the treatment of the bipolar disorder.

Medical scientists recently confirmed this in a landmark study at the Harvard Medical School. The average decline in depression rating on the Hamilton Scale was almost 50% in the fish oil group, as compared to an increase of 25% in the control group.

The Harvard researchers urged further trials of fish oils for the treatment of depression and manic-depressive illness.

Children suffering from ADHD are inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive. Researchers at Purdue University reported that hyperactive children had lower levels of key fatty acids in their blood than did normal children.

Closing note

Always seek out high-quality fish oils that are molecularly distilled and derived from high-DHA cold-water fish. In some cases, high doses of fish oil are required to treat the ailments above; always seek out the advice of your physician before making any radical changes to your diet, supplement, or drug regimens.


Featured pic: Food photo created by freepik –

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Navjot Singh
I'm an independent healthcare analyst with a passion for exploring and researching overall well-being. From cutting-edge medications to time-tested traditions, I delve into various perspectives. My extensive analysis covers health, alternative treatments, nutrition, fitness, herbs, and parenting. Every write-up on Bloomposts is churned thoroughly from authentic & published mediums. My aim is to provide valuable information for those who seek it. Now, let's dive into the articles - I hope you find them enjoyable and valuable.

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