Omega 3 Fatty Acids “Fish Oil”
Let’s Try and Clear Up Some Confusion
Dr. Chris Bantock, DC
Fish oil has received a lot of attention in the research world as well as in the media. Supplement companies are doing well with their marketing and advertising. However, let’s make sure you get the right information on how to interpret Omega 3s.
Omega 3s are essential fatty acids meaning they only come from plants. Animals eat them and convert them into more useable forms such as EPA and DHA. The form that comes from plant species is ALA. Good plant sources for this are walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds. However, a downside to the ALA form is the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA very poorly. So thanks to cold water fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel…) and some krill, we are able to get larger amounts of EPA and DHA when the fish are consumed.
One of the main reasons for consuming Omega 3s is because they are anti-inflammatory. As with most chronic diseases, there is usually an inflammatory component. Omega 3s have been shown to help people with cardiovascular disease, high triglycerides, ADD/ADHD, arthritis, bipolar disorder, autoimmune conditions, among other inflammatory conditions. We live in a society where meat consumption (beef, chicken, pork…) are the entrées on our plate, and unfortunately are more pro-inflammatory in general. Hence, we need a better balance, and unless you are consuming cold water fish multiple times a week, most likely you are out of balance.
So how do we supplement it correctly and with what kind? Yes, there are a few different forms of fish oil. A natural triglyceride form, an ethyl-ester form, and a synthetic triglyceride form. Which one is best? A natural triglyceride form is best as it is absorbed at higher amounts. Unfortunately, many forms that are over the counter and even prescription are in the ethyl ester and synthetic form, in other words they have been processed. All when consumed with a fatty meal will help increase absorption, as fish oil is a fat after all.
Dosage is also important. For most chronic states you will need about 2-4 grams of fish oil per day. That is of course, EPA and DHA combined. About 3-5 oz of fish will get you about 800mg to 1000mg of EPA and DHA combined, which is enough for a maintenance dose for the healthy population, but you have to have that daily.
When looking at supplementation it is important to read the label. Some will say 1000mg of “Fish oil” or “Omega 3,” when really less than half of that is EPA/DHA and the rest is of other forms of Omega 3 such as ALA. So if you are not reading the label correctly you are probably getting very little of appropriate amounts of fish oil, and most likely the least absorbable forms.
In 2015, a study out of the Journal of Nutritional Science found that out of 49 over the counter fish oil, 50% of them exceeded acceptable amounts of oxidation. Basically, the fish oil products were becoming rancid.
We can’t forget about some of the risks associated with taking high amounts of fish oil. Although fish oil is quite safe, consuming large amounts of fish oil has a blood thinning affect, so just be careful when doing so. Also, don’t forget about heavy metals that can happen in fish oil supplements. Know the company and ask for third party testing for contaminants and other heavy metals.
Here at Colorado Center for Functional Medicine we consider fish oil to be a standard supplement that most be should be taking. Of course, there may be changes in dosing and other nuances,