Are fish oil and weight loss really connected? Scientists from the University of Brazil have uncovered evidence that ordinary fish oil supplements — the kind you can get for $10 online, such as Nature's Bounty rapid release fish oil softgels ($9, Amazon) — may have hidden powers that'll make your thyroid work better. And that’s very good news for folks who are struggling to get slim.
“Your thyroid is the gas pedal for your metabolism,” explains Richard Shames, MD, author of Thyroid Power ($10, Amazon). Fish oil primes this pedal, “allowing the body to use more fat for fuel," and thereby shed pounds quickly.
The big question, of course, is how well does it work? To find out, we asked a group of dieters to start taking 2,000 mg of fish oil daily and report back on how their bodies responded. Every single one seemed thrilled. “I could eat carbs and still lose weight easily,” said Wisconsin reader JoAnne Custer, 58, who was down eight pounds in seven days. Minnesota mom Tonya Busall, 27, added: “I’ve struggled with my weight for years. But after one week of taking fish oil supplements and eating right, I lost 10 pounds. I wish someone had told me about this sooner!”
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Fish Oil and Weight Loss
Brazilian researchers actually set out to see if fish oil pills might lower cholesterol. Turns out, thyroid hormone helps regulate cholesterol — so they noticed signs that fish oil “was basically making thyroid hormone more effective at clearing away fat,” explains Baylor College of Medicine’s Ridha Arem, MD, author of The Thyroid Solution ($18, Amazon). Experts already knew that omega-3 fatty acids in fish seemed to boost thyroid function. Yet this new research, which is still in its early phases, hints that fish oil’s effect may be more powerful than previously thought. Dr. Arem and Dr. Shames agree there’s no need to wait for more studies to try fish oil supplements for weight loss. After all, fish oil is so safe that it’s often recommended for pregnant women.
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How to Take Fish Oil for Weight Loss
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about taking fish oil for weight loss.
What’s the best dose? Andrew Weil, MD, recommends eating oily-fleshed, wild-caught, cold-water fish two to three times per week. If you choose to use fish oil supplements instead, Dr. Weil suggests taking a product that provides 700 to 1,000 mg of EPA and 500 mg of DHA daily.
Does it work without a diet? Fish oil can make pounds easier to shed, but you still need to take in fewer calories than you burn.
Does it supercharge any diet? Since starvation diets can damage the thyroid, experts recommend aiming for about 1,500 calories per day. Docs also note that a high-nutrient mix of fruit, vegetables, lean protein, good carbs, and good fat is healthiest for your thyroid and all body systems. See the sample meals below.
Can fish oil replace thyroid medication? No. If you have or suspect a thyroid problem, talk to your doctor and follow his or her advice. Fish oil may be part of the recommended treatment, but it doesn’t replace prescription meds.
What if my thyroid is already healthy? Fish oil can help keep it that way! Plus, supplements also offer other impressive benefits, such as improving your heart health.
Fish Oil Benefits for Women
Did you know that one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States is due to an omega-3 deficiency? A study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School found that omega fatty acids (fish oil in particular) are essential to our health.
It relieves arthritis symptoms. Getting plenty of fish oil can help relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and decrease patients' need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
It fights cancer. Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center say that taking fish oil regularly seems to reduce breast-cancer risk by about 30 percent.
It protects your ticker. Danish researchers found that premenopausal women who got plenty of omega-3s from fish had a 90 percent lower risk of heart disease than women who avoided fish.
It lifts your spirits. After taking 2,000 mg of fish oil daily for eight weeks, 70 percent of depressed women reported improved mood, according to a study at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Hunger shrinks. One study found that fish oil shifts the balance of hunger hormones, dialing down the urge to eat. Omega-3s also enhance mood. “When you feel better, you’ll naturally crave less and eat less,” Arem promises.
Fat cells shut down. A Japanese study found that omega-3s in fish oil help block the excess calories we eat from being stuffed into fat cells. Explanation? Omega-3s may improve levels of insulin, a hormone in charge of storing excess calories, says Shames.
Fat becomes less stubborn! Omega-3s help soothe a type of internal inflammation that promotes weight gain, “so weight loss becomes easier,” Arem notes. Is fish oil right for you? Only you and your doctor can decide. But for many women, the answer will be yes. Shames says taking fish oil — which is also linked to stronger hearts, improved immunity, and sharper thinking — is simply “one of the best and healthiest” things most dieters can do.
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The Fish Oil Diet Meal Plan
Our nutrition team worked with top experts to develop no-fuss meals that promote thyroid health and accelerate weight loss. Consider it a quick-start guide to smart eating. You’ll get lots of nutrients and a nice balance of protein, good carbs, and good fat — all for a healthy 1,500 calories per day. Prefer to make your own menus? Go for it! See below for guidelines.
You can also substitute menus from any healthy diet — just choose one (such as the South Beach Diet or the Mayo Clinic Diet) that provides a nice mix of nutrients and about 1,500 calories a day. Drink as much water as you'd like. Add ultra-low-cal extras (spices, vinegar, Splenda) in moderation. Take between 1,000 mg and 2,000 mg of fish oil daily. Note: Always speak with your doctor before trying any new plan or supplement.
Breakfast (choose one daily)
- 1 whole-grain English muffin or pita, 2 Tbsp. lite cream cheese, 2 oz. smoked salmon or ham, 1 sliced tomato, fresh herbs to taste
- 1 cup blueberries
- 2 eggs, 1/2 cup spinach, 2 Tbsp. reduced-fat feta cheese scrambled in 1 tsp. olive oil
- 1/2 whole-grain pita
- 1 orange
Mid-Morning Snack (enjoy once daily)
- 1 cup plain, fat-free Greek yogurt; 1/2 cup muesli or other whole-grain cereal; 2 tsp. honey; 1 cup berries or 1/2 cup sliced fruit
Lunch (choose one daily)
- 1/2 cup hummus, 6 olives, 1/2 cup fresh veggies stuffed into 1 whole wheat pita, 1 piece of fresh fruit
- Starbucks Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box, 1 piece of fruit
- 4 oz. tuna or 2 chopped hard-boiled eggs, 1/4 cup each chickpeas and kidney beans, 1 tsp. olive oil, lemon juice and herbs to taste
- 8 olives and 1/2 cup sliced veggies
- 8 to 10 whole-grain crackers or 1 whole-grain pita
- 4 oz. shrimp, 3 Tbsp. cocktail sauce, 1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium vegetable soup, 1/2 cup added vegetables, 4 to 6 whole-grain crackers
Dinner (choose one daily)
- 4 oz. chicken breast (cooked), 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes, 1 Tbsp. olives, capers and seasoning to taste
- 1/ 2 cup cooked whole-grain pasta
- 1 cup green beans, 1 tsp. olive oil
- 4 oz. broiled fish, herbs to taste
- 1 cup broccoli, 1 tsp. olive oil
- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, 1 Tbsp. walnuts
- 4 oz. grilled chicken sausage
- 2 cups kale or spinach cooked with garlic and 2 tsp. olive oil
- 1 baked sweet potato
Snack (choose one daily)
- 1 oz. dark chocolate
- 1/4 cup hummus, 5 wheat crackers
- 4 oz. wine
- 8 almonds
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.