In Dr. Feinsinger’s March 14 column, “Ignore the Fish Oil Seller,” focuses his bias against fish oil on the debate over whether fish oil prevents heart disease and stroke. Because studies in the medical literature are mixed, he suggests that fish oil is useless. He reduces the subject to simple profit motives in the fish oil industry.
Unfortunately, Dr. Feinsinger’s conclusion does not meet the basic human health requirements for EPA and DHA, the fatty acids found in fish oil. These omega-3 fats are considered “essential” for human health, which means that they are “nutrients required for optimal health. These must be included in the diet as they are not produced in the body. “(Farlex Medical Dictionary).
According to Advances in Nutrition magazine, EPA and DHA are part of promoting healthy fetal and retinal development, and providing more than half the brain’s dry weight. EPA and DHA also help modulate inflammation and are an important part of healthy cell membranes.
The suggestion that “one tablespoon of ground flax per day” is beneficial for brain health has not been confirmed in the scientific literature. Studies by the US Department of Agriculture and researchers have consistently shown that vegetable omega-3 fatty acids are not a suitable substitute for animal omega-3 fatty acids due to lack of or insufficient conversion into EPA and DHA.
Vegetable omega-3 fatty acids do not contain EPA and DHA, the most important type of omega-3 fatty acids. The vegetable community consistently ignores this fact. As Dr. Feinsinger mentioned, there are EPA and DHA supplements based on algae, but they are much more expensive and less concentrated than fish oil. Even so, I encourage my strict vegetarian patients to take them.
Regarding contaminants in fish oil supplements: The New York Times recently reported on a large study of the 30 best-selling fish oils. While they differed in their concentration, “the study found that all tested products contained only very small amounts of mercury … The range is well below the upper safety limit.” (January 22, 2014).
Contamination can be a problem when consuming fish, especially large fish. Fortunately, according to the EPA, smaller fish like wild salmon can be safely consumed a few times a week.
I don’t eat fish or take fish oil supplements to reduce heart attacks. Like the other healthy parts of my diet, I include them because they are the building blocks of good health. (And it doesn’t hurt that the Alaskan king salmon with butter and lemon is delicious.)
Scott Tesoro, chiropractor