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Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to aid in everything from relieving arthritis pain and strengthening DNA to promoting heart health and protecting brain function. Among all the health benefits of omega-3s is their ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Lower inflammation in your body’s tissues means less pain for you!

While you can get omega-3s in many foods, fish is one of the most popular sources of this nutrient. Increasingly, healthcare professionals are recommending their patients and clients take fish oil supplements. But the question lingers—is it better to eat fish or pop a pill? Let’s take a look at the nutrient profile of each to find out which source of omega-3s may be best for you.

What’s the nutritional value of fish vs. fish oil?

Both fish and fish oil contain two types of unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids—EPA and DHA. In addition, whole fish contains protein and other vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain overall health and wellness including vitamin D and selenium.

In only one 6 oz. serving of wild salmon, you can ingest 883 mg of EPA and 1,111 mg of DHA. With EPA and DHA concentrations like that, most individuals would require only a few servings a week to enjoy the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3s. Additionally, this amount of salmon also contains 1,700 IU of vitamin D, which is a hefty amount of a vitamin that many health experts believe most people don’t get enough of these days.

On the other hand, fish oil is processed and purified to have very high amounts of EPA and DHA. In only a few capsules, you could meet your daily omega-3 goals. Getting your fish oil in this way might be especially nice if you don’t like the taste of fish, have allergies to fish or are on a tight food budget. Capsules containing processed, purified fish oil may also help individuals get the necessary EPA and DHA without the risk of heavy metals (particularly mercury) that have been found in high concentrations in some fish populations.

Even though both sources of the oil contain high levels of EPA and DHA, your body might not absorb each type with the same efficiency. Several studies have shown that omega-3s are better absorbed from fish than fish oil by up to 9 times! Even so, you can help your body absorb the nutrients in fish oil capsules by taking them with high-fat foods such as full-fat yogurt or avocados.

Are the anti-inflammatory benefits the same?

Although most experts agree that whole foods are generally the preferred way to obtain the nutrients your body needs, studies show that both fish and fish oil provide significant anti-inflammatory benefits in most people. Whichever way you choose to get your omega-3 fatty acids, remember that omega-3s are an important part of a well-balanced nutritional plan.

As chiropractic physicians, we’re specially trained to help our patients achieve their broad health and wellness goals, including those related to diet, exercise, sleep and stress management. If you have other questions about omega-3 fatty acids or about good nutrition more generally, please call or visit our office. We’re here to help!