Fish Oil: Benefits and Concerns

Vegetarians and vegans might not like this,  but fish oils are arguably of much higher bioavailability to us than vegetarian sources of essential Omega oils. It doesn’t necessary mean that vegetarians are deficient in Omega 3 fats, but they certainly need to take much more of flax oil (one of the richest sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)) to convert ALA into a sufficient amount of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which we use. In fact, hardly any ALA is converted to DHA and only about 5% of it is converted into EPA. Oily fish provides readily available EPA and DHA, thus the recommended daily amount of fish oil would be a mere teaspoon as opposed to a few dessert spoonfuls of flax oil or a few tablespoons of milled flax seeds.

It is important to maintain the correct ratio of essential oils intake. We should consume more Omega 3 and fewer amounts of Omega 6 and 9 for good health. Generally, we tend to consume too much omega 6 and 9 and too little of omega 3, due to high intakes of Olive oil and other cooking oils. Most nuts and seeds contain more Omega 6 then Omega 3 too. This is a point of concern for someone who doesn’t eat fish, because even if one does consume Flax oil or Echium oil, these oils would still have Omega 6 and 9 oils too. Fish contains mostly Omega 3 and it is a good source of bio available protein too. Thus, eating fish a few times per week, or supplementing with a good quality fish oil, proves to be not only more convenient, but also much better for health.

However, there is a concern that ocean fish is polluted with mercury and some farmed fish contain high levels of polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) which have toxic and mutagenic effects by interfering with hormones in the body. Because of this it wouldn’t typically be recommended to eat more than two 140g portions of fish a week. But if fish is polluted why would you want to eat even one portion a week, why not avoid it altogether? So, instead of eating potentially polluted fish twice a week, why not eat safer types of fish few times a week? Below is the table of Mercury Levels In Fish and seafood according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defence Council). All of the fish in the table contain beneficial amounts of Omega 3. So, print it and take it with you next time you shop for fish, to have a quick reference.

*Overfished species. Best not to buy if you care about environment
** May contain PCBs

As you can see, the bigger the fish – the more polluted it is. Farmed fish contains less mercury, but often contaminated with PBCs. Salmon in particular is problematic. So buy organic farmed fish, which contains RSPCA Freedom Food stamp. PCBs pose even greater problem then mercury when it comes to fish oils. Mercury is mostly accumulated in muscle tissue (fillets) it might not affect the fish oil in a supplement. PCBs on the other hand, as well as dioxins and pesticides are fat-soluble and can enter the oil during the production. Below are some tips on how to select a good quality, safe fish oil supplement.

1. Take note of the source of the fish oil. Do not buy fish oils derived from liver, as oils from fish body are much purer.
2. Make sure that oil is derived from small fish such as anchovies or sardines for highest purity.
3. Choose more natural, not heavily processed pharmaceutical grade oil. It must be purified, but retaining its natural nutrients such as mixed tocopherols (vitamin E) and carotenoids. It also must be golden colour. Pharmaceutical grade oils are deodorised and heavily processed. The process of removing the fish odour damages the oil, distorts the omega ratio and strips oil of other nutrients.

Im my experience, some of the good quality, stable fish oils available in UK health shops are: Nordic Naturals oils from Norway and Eskimo oils from Sweden. They have also been voted by EDF (Environmental Defence Fund) as of highest quality. For other brands, see the full list here.

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3 comments to Fish Oil: Benefits and Concerns

  • This is a really great post. There are concerns with fish being unsafe in large amounts. It’s interesting to know that fish oils are safer and easier to convert than trying to get Omega-3 from other sources like Flaxseeds. Everyone should be eating more fish. Take a look at our post on The Pure Package Blog, which includes a really great Thai Inspired Salmon recipe for the BBQ: http://www.purepackage.com/2011/04/salmon-nutrition-facts-and-recipes/

  • […] veganer kan få EPA och DHA från Chia eller lin frön, men som jag skrev tidigare ( här och här ), de omräkningskurser är ganska dålig, särskilt med tanke på att många människor med eksem […]

  • Maximilian

    Being a vegan, you’re right I partially disagree with this article. I won’t discount the fact that yes when vegan and omnivore sources of omega 3 are put side by side, omnivore source have a higher density of n-3 nutrients EPA and DHA per gram than those from strictly vegan sources. This shouldn’t mean however that the recommended daily intakes of EPA or DHA cannot be obtained. Flax and chia are very good sources and can meet these requirements no sweat. In addition there are vegan approved supplements which can also be taken in small quantities that can help with this. I for example take about 375 mg of DHA and 187 mg of EPA supplements from http://www.nuique.com

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