How to decide which fish oil to take and if you need it at all?

Everybody has heard by now that it is a good idea to have fish oils in ones diet, but I am finding most of my patients confused about quality and quantity of oil to be taken.

Researchers have found years ago that Eskimos and Natives living in Greenland had significantly less heart disease and diabetes and their blood was almost twice as thin as that of comparable Dutch population also living in Greenland.  The Natives had a traditional diet of high fat seal and fish meals and very few refined carbohydrates when first samples were taken.  About 20 years later, when researchers have returned again for more sample, they found the natives still eating high seal/fish diet but now they also ate lots of Western additives such as refined carbohydrates, grains and the rest. Samples taken on the second occasion did not differ very much from those taken from Dutch and the native’s rate of heart disease and diabetes began approaching that of their Western counterparts.  From that original research more data followed over the last 50 years and as more information became available from fat analysis it became evident that not all essential fatty acids (EFA) are equal and even though both Omega 6 and Omega 3 are essential, the ratio between the two is critical for health. Because most of us eat a lot of oils that are seed based our intake of Omega 6 is by far larger then our intake of Omega 3, which is predominant in fish oil and flax seed oil as well as some other nut oils such as walnut.  It is there fore causing an imbalance in the general population. High amounts of Omega 6 oils (a precursor to pro-inflammatory substances) has been shown to be involved in almost all inflammatory processes in the body such as all forms of arthritis, heart disease via atherosclerosis and some neurological disorders.

The imbalance between two essential fats is what seems to be the problem. We have too much of one and not enough of the other. It follows then that one doesn’t want to add to the already high amount of Omega 6 by taking supplements containing “ full spectrum essential fatty acids”. Often supplements are sold as a mix of Omega 9,6,3. Often people think that if one is good, three is better but it is not so.

Omega 9 is not an essential fatty acid and doesn’t need to be supplemented, Omega 6 is essential but most of us already have 100 times more then what we need, that leaves Omega 3 as the one in need of supplementing.  Both Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are necessary for life and alpha-linolenic acid is their precursor. It is extremely sensitive and often destroyed during food processing. Thus the more processed foods we eat the less EPA and DHA we will have. Hence the imbalance.

The best way to supplement your Omega 3s is to take a high quality, molecularly distilled supplement that tells you exact the amount of oils in each dose.  If you are looking to take a general supplement, an EPA/DHA mix totaling about 1000 mg should be sufficient. If you are looking to improve brain function, memory or have a neurological disorder taking high DHA concentrate is ore beneficial.  For helping with arthritis, general inflammation and atherosclerosis, mostly EPA is a good bet. As an additional benefit, researchers have known since 1985 that EPA helps lower cholesterol and seems to pull cholesterol from arterial plaque but is has proven a well guarded secret for the public.

If you don’t want to take supplements, make sure you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables (they all have lots of alpha-linolenic acid), aquatic vegetables such as algae, and all kinds of fish 4-5 times per week and always avoid processed food and partially hydrogenated oils.

In case of fats, you are what you eat.