Welcome To Fish Oil Facts

Introduction: Overview of fish oil

We stumbled upon this joke on a British web site:

Question: What do fish sing to each other?

Answer: Salmon-enchanted evening

Yes, we are enchanted with the wholesomeness of salmon, and there’s now a heightened interest in omega-3 oils. Nothing fishy here really, as fish is healthy business, everyone knows that. Truth is fish oil is said to be today’s answer to what ails modern man. It’s our best protection against the ravages brought about by the daily stresses of a highly industrialized environment.

Dr. Barry Sears said it himself: “Fish oil stands in a category all its own. Studies have shown the role it plays in attention deficit order, depression, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s…On a scale of 1-10 for supplements, I give high dose fish oil a 12. It’s the # 1 anti-inflammatory supplement you can take. If you take only one supplement in your life, make sure it’s high dose fish oil.”

Proponent of the Zone health concept, Dr. Sears authored TheOmega RX Zone (2002) wherein he named high dose pharmaceutical fish oil as being the closest to a medical miracle in the 21 st century.

Fish oil existed some two hundred years ago as a cure for arthritis. In the mid 80’s, it became the craze of the health food industry but like a diet fad, it came and went, making it to the archives of health literature. Dr. Sears and other believers, however, are convinced it is just a matter of time before people will re-think the benefits of fish oil, since a significant number of studies have demonstrated the validity of its health claims.

Fish Oil: What is It?

 In layman’s terms, fish oil is the substance that is derived from the tissues of oily fish. In the Mayo Clinic’s February 2004 newsletter, doctors have encouraged a higher intake of omega-3 fat, found in fatty cold water fish, canola oil, flaxseed, soybeans, tofu, walnuts and fish oil capsules - this particular type of fat may help boost good cholesterol levels and lower triglycerides (blood fat).

Note that the Mayo Clinic mentioned fish oil capsules. This is a key element to consider because if we were to take Dr. Sears’ word for it, it is not necessarily in the amounts of fresh tuna and salmon that we consume regularly, but in the pharmaceutical-grade version that is processed so that our bodies receive sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA. Expressed more simply, we do not get enough fish oil from eating salmon, tuna or mackerel even if we eat them everyday. While eating a tuna salad for lunch or a salmon would result in some benefits, this alone will not provide us with the required amounts of fish oil our bodies need. It is the high dose fish oil that we should focus on. To understand this better, let’s look into EPA and DHA.

EPA and DHA: Our Weapons from Fish Oil

EPA and DHA are the principal omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid while DHA isdocosahexaenoic acid. So as not to overwhelm you with medical mumbo-jumbo, we shall limit ourselves to the fundamental concepts of these two substances.

EPA is a large and complex polyunsaturated fatty acid found in fish and fish oils, and falls under the omega-3 family. EPA has 20 carbons and five double bonds, and is the parent compound for prostaglandins and thromboxane A3 – hormone-like substances that assist in counteracting inflammatory disorders triggered by other prostaglandins. This simply means that EPA and fish oil can inject some balance into an excessive meat diet. Research has therefore concluded that there exists a relationship between EPA and heart disease (Robert Ronzio, The Encyclopedia of Nutrition and Good Health, 1997).

DHA is also part of the omega-3 family and is said to reduce blood triglycerides in humans and consequently reduce the risk of heart disease. Low levels of DHA have been associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ADD and even depression. The growing body of medical literature on DHA supplementation indicates that it helps in lowering the incidence of modern-day diseases.

To sum up, EPA has anti-inflammatory properties while DHA triggers the barriers against neurological disorders.

Before Rushing Out to Buy Fish Oil…

Governor Schwarzenegger Uses Fish Oil

Governor Schwarzenegger was recently accused of promoting a conflict of interest by consulting for fitness magazines that make money from advertising health supplements when he had recently vetoed a bill that would regulate the health supplement industry. In response to this controversy, Schwarzenegger had the following to say:

"Even today, when I eat, I have in my bathroom at the Capitol, I have five or six bottles of food supplements, vitamins C and B12 and B and fish oil pills and all that kind of stuff," he said. "Wherever I am, I have food supplements. That's part of me. I just happen to believe in it very strongly."

(taken from blog link, Wikipedia, July 2005, by blogger Marshall)

Buyer beware! We’ll make one thing clear. Going to your neighbourhood health store to take out bottles of fish oil capsules without understanding the marketing hype associated with dietary supplements can disappoint you. This is why it pays to examine product labels more closely.

Most advertising hoopla on fish oil will claim that it is:

-mercury free,
-pharmaceutical grade, and
-toxin free

Product labels will contain one or all of the above claims. So basic vigilance won’t hurt.

The rationale behind these claims lies in the fact that the factor of ocean water contamination looms large over the horizon. The enlightened among us are aware that there is no fish in the world that is NOT contaminated. With extraordinary amounts of PCBs, mercury, and other toxic substances that permeate the world’s oceans these days, most freshwater fish are reported to exhibit significant mercury levels. Unfortunately, fish are at the end of the food chain in the ocean so the bigger the fish, the more toxins they contain.

Thanks to advanced technology, however, sophisticated pharmaceutical processes have refined EPA/DHA concentrates and are now available as capsules or in another form from licensed health stores.

Back to the question, then: how do we guard against misrepresentations by manufacturers and distributors of fish oil supplements? Dr. Barry Sears’s advice is simple: consult an independent source with no financial interest in the product. He especially recommends the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) program affiliated with the University of Guelph in Canada (www.ifosprogram.com). They consistently conduct tests and posts levels of toxins in fish oil samples submitted by manufacturers. If the lot number on your fish oil is not listed on the IFOS site, then think twice before buying it, he says.

CTV commissioned a study of its own, to measure the contaminants found in fish capsules from dozen manufacturers.

The results were surprising. Not only do the capsules contain the beneficial fatty acids in high concentrations, but they are also cleaner than the fish they came from.

According to the companies' own laboratory results, all the capsules tested contained well below one nanogram per gram of PCBs. That means a person would need to take more than 300 fish oil capsules to be exposed to the amount of PCBs in a single serving of farmed salmon.

Even a relatively toxin-free wild fish has the same PCB content as about 20 capsules.

(Extracted from an article taken from the IFOS website, www.ifosprogram.com)

Fish Oil and the Prevention of Certain Diseases

 “…the evidence is absolutely clear that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from wild fish or fish oil supplements – do reduce the risk of heart attack and other problems related to heart and blood vessels disease…I am amazed that people with heart disease in the United States take such limited advantage of this incredibly simple and safe solution to our nation’s most devastating health problem.”

( Floyd H. Chilton, Ph.D, Inflammation Nation, Simon & Schuster , New York . 2005 )

Depending on which fish oil document you read, different writers will cite how it can prevent different diseases. Certain disorders are more frequently mentioned than others, such as:

Fish Oil and Heart Disease

Researchers have suggested that fish oil as a dietary supplement may help in lowering the risk of heart disease. In an article from the National Library of Medicine and the NIH, (www.pubmed.org), Doctors Harper and Jacobsen from the Emory University of Medicine in Atlanta mentioned 14 randomized clinical trials, of which six were held with fish oil. Although there was no significant reduction in nonfatal myocardial infarction, the fish oil trials demonstrated a reduction in total mortality and sudden death. So while there wasn’t a 100% guarantee of fish oil preventing heart disease, the conclusion by Harper and Jacobsen points to “a role for fish oil (eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid) or fish in secondary prevention because recent clinical trial data have demonstrated a significant reduction in total mortality, coronary heart disease death, and sudden death.” (www.pubmed.org, PMID study 16310434)

Fish Oil and Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

One study conducted in Norway can shed light on how fish oil contributes to a lower incidence of MS.

According to Michael T. Murray (The Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, 1996), farming communities in Norway exhibited higher rates of MS than coastal communities, proving that the coastal people’s diet of cold water fish rich in omega-3 oils helped curb the MS phenomenon. The same link was discovered in subsequent studies done in 1983 to 1989 in 36 other countries where a diet rich in animal fat provoked higher levels of MS.

Fish Oil and Alzheimer’s

We would be misleading you by saying that fish oil WILL prevent Alzheimer’s. It won’t. But while proponents of fish oil are not touting it as a miracle drug, the omega-3 fatty acids that fish oil contains do help in lowering the risk factors.

For objectivity’s sake, we must cite one article from the National Library of Medicine and the NIH that stated that no correlation exists between the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and the prevention of dementia or age-related diseases. The trials were conducted in Quebec , Canada by Doctors Laurin D, Verreault R, Lindsay J, Dewailly E, Holub BJ from the Geriatric Unit of Laval University (www.pubmed.org, PMID 14624027).

Yet, other articles from the same source appear to suggest otherwise. You be the judge. There is sufficient documentation to enable you to filter the hype from the true.

Didn’t grandma always used to say though that fish was brain food?

Fish Oil and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Murray warns that for any study to be conclusive, the study must take longer than a year. This mirrors the stringent requirement that subjects must be evaluated over time (at least a year) for conclusions to be viable. He did say that researchers completed a one-year fish oil supplementation study for rheumatoid arthritis (no mention was made of who the researchers were and where the trial was held) and the results seemed to indicate that 2.6 grams per day of omega-3 oil significantly reduces the need for drug therapy for this disease, and therefore justifies further validation of the short term trials.

Fish Oil and Breast Cancer

In her book, The Nutritional Health Bible (1997) British writer Linda Lazarides cited studies of breast cancer in women who had lower levels of DHA. “Postmenopausal women with breast cancer were found to have significantly lower levels of DHA (produced from fish oils). It is concluded that oily fish consumption may be protective against breast cancer in older women.” (page 222).

Tips for Taking Fish Oil

Once again we borrow from the wisdom of Dr. Barry Sears who devoted most of his career to researching lipids as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Virginia which, at the time, was the center of lipid research in the United States .

Here are his tips on taking fish oil:

1. Never take fish oil capsules on an empty stomach.

2. Take your fish oil capsule at night before bedtime, preferably with a snack.

3. Divide up your capsules throughout the day. Unlike vitamins and minerals that last only a few hours in the blood, fatty acids from fish oil last several days in the blood. So if you can’t take them at all once, split them up. Either way, he says, you’ll still maintain stable blood levels.

4. If you need to take more than four capsules a day, consider switching to a liquid version. This is a good way to save money, given that you no longer have to pay for the expensive gel capsules.

5. Freeze the liquid fish oil – this prevents oxidation, and makes the liquid taste better.

6. Whether in gel or liquid form, it is still fish and many people dislike its taste. A trick would be to mix the liquid fish oil with two ounces of orange juice. Or you can add tablespoons of fish oil into your morning shake.

Conclusion: not all fish are alike!

 Dr. Floyd Chilton did a study on fish and came up with three categories of fish ranging from best, good and neutral. Since some individuals prefer to eat fresh fish rather than take fish oil supplements, he named the fish that we should attempt to eat on a regular basis. The data that follows is taken from his book, Inflammation Nation, on pages 173-174.

CATEGORY 1: BEST (eat these as often as possible)
Anchovies, European
Herring, Atlantic/Pacific
Mackerel, Atlantic/Pacific
Chinook Salmon, wild
Roe, mixed species
Caviar, black and red
Sockeye Salmon, wild
CATEGORY 2: GOOD (good fish choices, eat them often)
Pink salmon, wild
Halibut, Greenland
Coho Salmon, wild
Alaskan King Crab
Blue Crab
Chum Salmon, wild
Oysters, wild
Oysters, farmed
Shark, mixed species
Sea Bass, mixed species
White tuna, canned
Squid, mixed species
CATEGORY 3: NEUTRAL (no reason to avoid these fish, but they do not satisfy EPA requirements; when you eat one of them instead of a category 1 or 2, include an EPA supplement)
Rainbow Trout, wild
Yellowfin Tuna
Trout, mixed species
Sardines, Pacific
Salmon, Atlantic, wild
Cod, Pacific
Cod, Atlantic
Perch, mixed species
Snapper, mixed species

Dr. Chilton actually had a fourth category – bad fish to avoid – and these are grouper, halibut (Atlantic/Pacific), Pompano (Florida), Channel Catfish (farmed and wild), and Salmon (Atlantic, farmed).

References :

Books :

1. Chilton, Floyd H., Ph.D. Inflammation Nation. Simon & Schuster , New York , USA . 2005.

2. Lazarides, Linda. The Nutritional Health Bible. Thorson’s, UK . 1997.

3. Murray, Michael T. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Prima Publishing , California , USA . 1996.

4. Ronzio, Robert A. The Encyclopedia of Nutrition and Good Health. Facts-on-File , USA . 1996.

5. Sears, Barry Dr . The Anti-Inflammation Zone. Harper Collins, New York . 2005.

6. Sears, Barry Dr . The Omega RX Zone. The Miracle of the New High Dose Fish Oil. Harper Collins, New York . 2002. 

Web Sites:

1. www.pubmed.org

2. www.mayoclinic.org

3. www.wikipedia.org

Disclaimer:  This information is for educational purposes only.  The information provided on this web page is not intended to treat, prevent, or cure any disease.  You should always ask your doctor before starting any type of new nutritional program.  The author assumes no liability of any use of the information provided on this webpage. 


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