With so many nutritional supplements on the market these days, trying to figure out which is the best for you can often be overwhelming! There is a supplement for just about everything! Look younger, feel more energetic, help your joints, help your memory, renew your skin, hide your age… the list goes on. But there is one basic supplement we all need, everyday, and that is Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (Fish Oil).
I was actually a little surprised that we hadn’t already done a definitive guide to fish oil when I was reviewing our list of previous blogs. I usually make it a habit to speak it with all our practice members about fish oil, and because it’s such a important component of salutogenesis (a healthcare approach that focuses on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease), that I just assumed I’ve done a blog on the stuff. But, as Phil so eagerly likes to inform me, I was completely, utterly wrong! (Well, there is a first time for everything…)
Everyone – even chiropractors, conventional medical doctors and naturopaths alike – agree that getting enough fish-based Omega-3 fatty acids in our diets is important. However, it’s important to understand why fish oil is so beneficial.
It all comes down to Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio. You can’t talk about fish oil without getting into Omega-3 fatty acids, and discussing Omega-3 fatty acids is redundant without understanding their relationship to the Omega-6 fatty acids. I’ve spoken about the ideal fatty acid ratio multiple times in our wellness workshops, but for a quick refresher a fatty acid ratio between 2:1 and 1:1 omega 6: omega 3 is key to health and helps keep dangerous inflammation in check. Seeing as how Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in “vegetable” oils (such as soybean, corn, peanut, sunflower – to name a few), fake butter products and grain-fed animal fat, all major components of today’s modern diet, it is now estimated that the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of the Standard Australian Diet is said to be approaching 30:1!
To understand why that imbalance is so harmful, you have to understand eicosanoids. Polyunsaturated fats convert to eicosanoids in the body. Both Omega-6 and Omega-3-derived eicosanoids are important signalling molecules, but each has different effects, both figuring prominently in the body’s response to inflammation. Omega-6 eicosanoids are pro-inflammatory, while Omega-3 eicosanoids are much less inflammatory. Omega-3 eicosanoids (the type we get from taking fish oil or eating fatty fish) actually reduce inflammation; in an unbalanced diet heavy in vegetable oils, the Omega-6 eicosanoids far outnumber the Omega-3s and contribute to a lot more inflammation.
So yes, maintaining a balanced Omega-6 to Omega-3 dietary ratio is vital. But apart from its role on inflammation, there are a number of other reasons for you to supplement with fish oil: the EPA and DHA fatty acids it contains being one.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) play big roles in the formation of brain and retinal tissue. Huge concentrations of DHA can be found in fetal brain and neural development, especially during the last trimester. Babies, especially those yet to be born, can really benefit from fish oil supplementation, making all those calls for pregnant women to avoid fish seem a little misguided. DHA/EPA might also be a boon to the elderly; as we age, cognitive and visual health becomes more important than ever, and low DHA/EPA levels may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias, and vision problems. There’s also been some research suggesting DHA/EPA has some beneficial effect on the risk of various cancers, including prostate, breast, and colorectal. Suicidal depression and schizophrenia, too, may be linked with low levels of essential fatty acids like EPA and DHA. And finally, fish oil supplementation may even help improve insulin sensitivity. Check out this link if you want some more information on the relationship between fish oil and chronic disease.
Hmmm. Less inflammation, lower heart disease risk, better vision, more neural development, less cancer risk, proven health benefits: why wouldn’t you want to pour yourself a glass of delicious fish oil in the morning? Well, the old adage about “too much of a good thing” comes to mind, because there are some cautions.
As stated before, the most important reason to supplement with fish oil is to restore the Omega-3/Omega-6 balance in your diet and promote good heart health. But not all of us have access to grass-fed or wild game, or wild-caught fish (foods rich in Omega 3), and taking fish oil supplements can be an easier option to counteract the Omega-6’s in our lives. But for those of us who do eat exactly like a caveman and have next to no Omega-6s in our diet, fish oil isn’t as crucial. In fact, taking in more than three grams of fish oil may lead to adverse levels of blood thinning. And don’t forget that, being fairly unstable, fish oil can still be oxidized which can lead to inflammation, exactly what we are trying to reduce. In its pure, stable state, fish oil protects the heart and fights inflammation, but oxidized fish oil can still be harmful. To avoid oxidized fish oil, only buy it from reputable sources, test your capsules for rancidity by biting into one, and keep them refrigerated (or at least out of warm areas). Don’t overcook your fatty fish, and don’t cook with fish oil (one study showed a huge drop off in EPA and DHA levels when heated).
So does it matter how you get your fish oil? As long as it’s from a company you trust, and it hasn’t turned rancid (check the expiration dates), you should be fine. Some people like taking bottled fish oil by the spoonful, but some may have trouble with the oily sensation (not to mention the taste of some of those brands!) in their mouths. Cod liver oil is another option; while it’s slightly lower in DHA/EPA levels, it does contain Vitamins D and A. If you’re looking to get more of those vitamins in your diet, cod liver oil might work for you. Most people, however, go for the capsules. They are by far the most convenient (you can easily pop ‘em in your mouth on the go), and those who can’t stand the taste or sensation of actual fish oil can still get the benefits by taking the capsules. Just beware of cheaper brands – while they may be easier on the wallet, they’re also prone to going rancid and causing lethal fish burps.
Another thing to consider when buying fish oil is, just like our current farmed fish, many cheaper fish oils on the market can be high in toxic metals. The lack of filtration is often what makes them so cheap. Trying to find a pure, high strength fish oil is often like buying perfume – you get what you pay for. Boxes of 5000 tablets for $20 probably isn’t very high quality.
Practitioner only labels of fish oil sold through many health practitioners are usually the best way to go. They have gone through a vigorous filtration process to remove heavy metals, are properly stored and designed to be rich in your daily requirements. That is why we stock the Metagenics range of fish oil.
Metagenics removes impurities, pesticides and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) so you are provided with a high quality and pure fish oil. POPs such as DDT, DDD, DDE, dioxins, furans and dioxin-like PCBs can be found in fish oils and have the potential to impact human health. These pollutants can accumulate in the body and affect its ability to function optimally. This is why it is important to choose Metagenics fish oil as it has less than the Australian standards minimum level of POPs.
Metagenics fish oils are also manufactured using nitrogen flushing to produce formulas that are fresh and are protected from oxidation. Ansidine and peroxide are indicators of the level of oxidation in a fish oil. Like all other oils, fish oils can become oxidised or rancid when exposed to heat, air or light. Oxidised fish oils not only taste and smell ‘fishy’, but also have limited health benefits and can even be harmful. This is why it is important you choose a fish oil of the highest quality with the lowest ansidine and peroxide values.
Finally Metagenics supports sustainable fishing and marine conservation by only sourcing small fish species using sustainable fishing practices. Metagenics fish oils are certified by Friend of the Sea, an independent organisation that audits and certifies products that practise sustainable fishing and reduce their environmental impact.
So unless you’re eating fatty fish every day, you’re a prime candidate for fish oil supplementation. The typical Straight Back to Health blog reader hopefully has a low sugar intake and avoids refined carbs, but is often faced with the prospect of eating less than ideal meat and animal fat. We all wish we could dine on wild venison and fresh caught salmon every day, but most of us just can’t. In cases like these, taking 1-3 grams of fish oil each day is a good way to restore the fatty acid balance in our cells, promote good heart health, provide essential fatty acids for our brains, improve protein synthesis after workouts, and counteract some of the downfalls of modern life.