Sunday, November 25, 2012

Omega-3 Super nutrient or just a fishy tale?

Last week I briefly touched on the possibility that omega-three fatty acids may accelerate brain healing. [1] For well over a decade omega-three’s have been touted for their benefits especially as it relates to brain and heart health.

To date the only negatives linked to omega-three’s and fish oil (top source of omega-three) was that it tasted awful and could also cause fishy burps.

The Journal of American of the American Medical Association recently published research that indicated supplementation with omega-three polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) was not associated with a lower risk of cardiac death, sudden death, heart attack, or stroke.

Our findings do not justify the use 0f omega-three PUFA as a structural intervention in everyday clinical practice or guidelines supporting dietary omega-three PUFA administration, concluded researchers at the University Hospital of Ionnina in Greece. [2]

You may have read headlines like the following in recent weeks; “benefits of omega-threes just a fish tale?”  However, before you throw away all of your fish oil it must be mentioned that this study contradicts previous research while also having several flaws with its analysis.  If you’d like to read more on the specifics in this case I will link to them at the end of this article.

Anecdotally I have spoken to a doctor who specializes in healing the body holistically and he mentioned that too much fish oil could plug your body up.  I have not been able to verify this information however and have not heard this idea mentioned before.

A few things that should be considered however if you do use omega-three supplements or plan to do so:

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements usually do not have negative side effects. When side effects do occur, they typically consist of minor gastrointestinal symptoms, such as belching, indigestion, or diarrhea.

It is uncertain whether people with fish or shellfish allergies can safely consume fish oil supplements.

Omega-3 supplements may extend bleeding time (the time it takes for a cut to stop bleeding). People who take drugs that affect bleeding time, such as anticoagulants (“blood thinners”) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), should discuss the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements with a health care provider.

Fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil, are not the same as fish oil. Fish liver oils contain vitamins A and D as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Both of these vitamins can be toxic in large doses. The amounts of vitamins in fish liver oil supplements vary from one product to another.

There are some concerns that some fish oil supplements can be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or mercury, which is especially concerning since the FDA does not actually have to approve supplements to make sure they are safe or effective. Buying supplements that state they are USP (United States Pharmacopeia) certified can help to make sure they meet quality, purity, and potency. Unfortunately, few supplement makers actually participate in the USP program.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning that our bodies can not produce them on their own and need to get them from our diet, either from the foods we eat and drink, or from a supplement.

Consult your health care provider before using omega-3 supplements. If you are pregnant or nursing a child, if you take medicine that affects blood clotting, if you are allergic to fish or shellfish, or if you are considering giving a child an omega-3 supplement, it is especially important to consult your (or your child’s) health care provider. [3]

Should children take omega-3 supplements?

I will give you my take on that question but before I do I will let you know what the medical community recommends:

Dr. Alex Richardson, a senior research fellow from Oxford University, indicates that most children can benefit from 450 to 500 mg per day of a combined EPA/DHA supplement. He cautions that some children might need more to see any benefits from the fish oil use, but that children should only take over 1,000 mg a day if under a doctor's strict supervision.

Fish oil supplements often leave behind an oily, fishy taste that many children dislike, so supplements marketed for children usually contain artificial sweeteners and flavorings. Dr. Richardson suggests picking a supplement with the more natural sweeteners xylitol and mannitol. Check the daily-recommended dose of the supplement on the label, easy to overlook this but don’t take it for granted.

Although overdosing your child on fish oil is unlikely to do her serious harm, according to Dr. Richardson, it can cause an upset stomach and other unpleasant digestive symptoms. Some children might also develop allergies to fish oils that can pose a risk to their health, so talk to your doctor if you notice any signs of an allergic reaction in your child, including wheezing, vomiting, diarrhea and skin rashes. [4]

The American Heart Association recommends that all adults eat a variety of fish, preferably those high in omega-3 fatty acids, at least twice a week, and also eat foods rich in ALA, such as flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseed.

Although there aren't specific recommendations about fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids for kids, the food pyramid does advise that it is important to include fish, nuts, and seeds in a child's diet. [5]

It is my strong belief that adults and children should strive to obtain as many of their nutrients as possible from whole foods.  That said due to concerns regarding mercury and other contaminants in fresh water fish obtaining safe and adequate levels of omega-three’s may seem challenging without resorting to supplementation.  As the name suggests supplements should only serve as a safeguard against deficiencies and compliment the foods that we eat.

Children tend to have favorites and as a result their dietary intake isn’t very balanced.  Case in point most children don’t like the taste/texture/smell of fish.  So they aren’t likely to get adequate amounts of omega-three’s.  Having said that there are other ways to get omega-three from non-fish food sources.

Fish, plant, and nut oils are the primary dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, and herring. ALA is found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil. The health effects of omega-3 fatty acids come mostly from EPA and DHA. ALA from flax and other vegetarian sources needs to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA. Many people do not make these conversions very effectively, however. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include sea life such as krill and algae. [6]

Supermarkets are now carrying a range of products that tout their added omega-3 content as a health benefit. Everything from mayonnaise to cereal to eggs can be found with omega-3 added in. But are these products really better for your health?

Probably not, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). [7]

First the amount of omega-three content is rather insignificant and doesn’t match the claims on the label and secondly the sources are of poor quality.

Avoid omega-three eggs! Typically the animals are fed poor-quality sources of omega-3 fats that are already oxidized. But even if they were healthy, it turns out that omega-3 eggs do not last anywhere near as long as non-omega-3 eggs.
Eggs (specifically their yolks) from pasture-raised hens are also a good source of omega-threes and should be your eggs of choice (free-range and the aforementioned omega-three eggs is very misleading). [8]

I think the best strategy is not necessarily to increase you and your family’s omega-three intake though if you’re able to obtain it from high-quality whole foods sources that would be a very good goal.  Rather reducing the amount of highly refined and processed fats from your diet is very important for immediate and long-term health.

Strategies to improve your “good” to “bad” fat ratio:

·      Unprocessed organic oils such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and avocado oil, and organic butter—or better yet, raw butter from grass-pastured cows. Raw milk is also a good source of highly bioavailable omegas.

·      Raw nuts and seeds, such as fresh organic flax seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and English walnuts, which are also high in omega-3s (ALA).

·      Meat from animals that are free ranging and/or grass fed, which are higher in beneficial omega-6s, such as natural CLA. If you have access to them, game meats such as venison are very high in beneficial fats. The article “Better Beef,” written by California rancher Dave Evans, gives a great in-depth view of the many benefits of grass-fed beef.

·      Egg yolks from pastured hens are rich in beneficial omega-3s.

·      Coconut oil, although not an omega-3, is also an extremely beneficial dietary fat with an “embarrassment of riches” for your heart, metabolism, immune system, skin and thyroid. Coconut oil’s health benefits derive from its special MCFAs (medium-chain fatty acids). [9]

Worried about the mercury content in fresh fish?  Check this out:


[1] Fish Oil Helped Save Our Son

[6] Animal Based Omega-Three Superior to Plant Based:

[7] Center for Science in the Public Interest October 1, 2007

No comments:

Post a Comment