One of the most talked about supplements after probiotics is fish oil. Many Naturopaths prescribe it, and some people take it just because they’ve heard it’s good for them. So is there something to all this excitement, or is it just hype and good marketing?
There are many reasons why fish oil is potentially a good supplement, from a growing baby to adult. These healthy fats help create a healthy brain, decreases risk of certain cancers, decreases overall heart disease, decreases and treats depression, and so on. There are two main components: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid), which are the long chain fatty acids known as omega 3s. They are naturally found in fish and shellfish, and nut oils like walnuts. These two together, are the omega 3s that research focuses on, and they are important because of the effect they have on inflammation. In general, they decrease or mediate inflammation in the body, which is involved in many disease processes like the ones mentioned above.
If you want to get a good amount of these essential fatty acids in your diet, most people can achieve this if you can consume 2 eight-ounce servings of fish each week.
However, if you are pregnant, nursing or have a particular health condition then you may need more than that. For example, a growing baby needs a lot of DHA to make a healthy brain. A full term baby needs 2400 mg DHA per day until 3 months postpartum. This can be achieved with cod liver oil, or a good EPA and DHA supplement or eating fish 24/7. You would need to eat about 3 lbs of oily fish, (sardines, mackerel, herring, or wild salmon) every day or more if you’re only eating white fish.
A Note on Toxins
Unfortunately, due to poor fishing practices and certain industrial processes heavy metals are a legitimate concern when consuming fish and fish products. Mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are common toxins in seafood. As a general rule when considering the cumulative effect of these toxins, the higher up the food chain, the greater the toxic load. So fish that eat plants, will have a lower toxin load than fish that eat other fish.
Getting the Most Benefit from Omega 3s
You can take several steps to ensure you’re getting the optimal benefits from fish.
Ask your Naturopath/healthcare provider: There are many different fish oil supplements on the market, get assistance from your healthcare provider to select one that is low risk for heavy metals and toxins and provides the most benefit for your money.
Make sure that your fish are selected from a good source: Read the labels on your food so you know where your fish is coming from and how it has been processed.
Two good online sources are:
Do the sniff test. Buy the freshest fish you can find. The longer a fish is exposed to oxygen, the more it loses some of its omega-3 benefits.
Cook it right: You can’t cook the toxins out, but you can minimize exposure by removing the skin and surface fat prior to eating.
Note: Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor today about getting assessed and treated if needed, and as always talk to your health care provider before beginning any new medication or supplement.
Phillipson-Webb, L. 2010. Sprout Right: Nutrition from Tummy to Toddler. Penguin Canada.
Romm, A. 2003. Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A Commonsense Guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health. Celestial Arts.
Stuart, A. What to Know about Omega 3s and Fish. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/what-to-know-about-omega-3s-and-fish?page=3. Reviewed October 17, 2011.
I am a Naturopathic Doctor and Doula providing care in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I have a passion for helping people with their health issues and improving the birth experience for Moms, and their babies. I also have a life long love affair with soccer, curling, and the alto saxophone.