I was recently prompted to research omega 3 because doubt had been cast on some of its health claims, and we sell fish oil in the clinic. Three months later (yes really! There was a lot to read) I can share with you what I found out.
Omega 3 does have lots of health benefits
I was prompted to look into omega 3 because this study had investigated the link between omega 3 and cardiovascular health and found little or no effect. I wanted to check that the other health claims made for omega 3 still stood up, and although there is a lot of debate around this issue, I found enough to be reassured.
Not having enough Omega 3 is linked to chronic inflammation. This article summarises how bad this is for your health. It is linked to health problems including diabetes, cancer, allergies and even alzheimers. I found two randomised controlled trials (click here and here) which show that it reduces inflammation. This study also shows omega 3 to be important for brain development.
Anyway, two months later guess what? This study was published which showed that EPA (one of the long-chain fatty acids within omega 3) could reduce the incidence of heart attack and strokes in high-risk patients after all.
Omega 3 is only half the picture
Did you know that when it comes to fatty acids, Omega 3 is only half the story? Omega 6 is the other essential fatty acid, and getting a balance is crucial. Most westerners are taking in too much omega 6 because of our diet. Around 150 years ago, the ratio of Omega 3 to 6 in our diets was 1:1 – now it’s closer to 1:15. A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids would be about 2:1.
As you can see, the worst oil for a healthy omega 6 intake is sunflower oil. Next comes corn oil, cottonseed oil and soybean oil, which are types of vegetable oil. It turns out that the fats which cuisines around the world have been using for centuries are lower in omega 6 than the ones which flooded the market in the 20th century.
The take home message is that popping a daily omega 3 supplement is not going to lower your inflammation levels all by itself - it's crucial that you avoid an excess of omega 6 by looking at your diet. This website offers some great tips on how to do so, or call in at the clinic for our free fact sheet.
Fish oil extraction is bad for the environment.
I used to imagine that fish oil was simply a side product of the fishing industry, a clever way to make use of cod livers which would otherwise go to waste. If only. The demand for Omega 3 supplements is so huge that all sorts of marine life is removed from the seas and squeezed for its oil to make supplements. These are creatures which would otherwise remain in the food chain, and a man called Paul Greenberg is kicking up a stink about it. (Read more here.)
We considered switching over to algae oil when we read this. The fish oil we sell (Nordic Oil) is relatively sustainable because the boats are anchored, and they catch herring and mackerel, which are lower down in the food chain than other fish. But for sustainability it can’t compare with an oil which is derived directly from algae. However, when I looked at the price and potency of Nordic Oil, I was reminded of why we had chosen this brand in the first place – it really is great value for such a high dose of EPA and DHA. The fact that we buy it wholesale enables us to offer it at a lower price than our patients can find online, and many of them rely on it (we also sell to the public, so call in if you would like some.)
The algae oil I found with the best potency is a brand called Vegan Vitality – available soon in reception for £14.99. If you don’t live in the Hexham area, you can buy it online here.
Eating oily fish might be enough, but be careful which ones you eat.
According to the Association of UK Dietitians, two portions of oily fish per week provides enough omega 3 for a healthy adult. But what if it’s farmed? The omega 3 levels of farmed salmon depends on what they’re fed. If they are mostly fed ground up anchovies, they have just as much omega 3 as wild salmon, but in recent years those levels have fallen dramatically (read more here.) Also bear in mind that the higher up on the food chain a fish is, the more likely it is to contain contaminants like mercury. This is why pregnant women are advised against eating too much tuna.
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