Fish oil. Apparently the greatest thing known to mankind other than squats, of course. And deadlifts. And butts. Really round butts. Really round butts that one gets from squatting. You know the butts that I am talking about. The ones that can be viewed in three dimensions in the Cartesian Coordinate System- X, Y, Z. In this instance, I’m particularly referring to the oft sought after Z axis.
The point of this article isn’t to drive home my healthy obsession with butts or squats. It is also not to point out the fact that most modern diseases and ailments can be healed through consuming copious amounts of fish oil. Truth be told, you cannot fish oil your way out of poor nutrition choices, increased stress levels, lack of sleep, or over-training. The intranetz appears to be inundated with information regarding, well, everything, but specifically fish oil. It irked me to sift through all of the contradictions in each supplement and ensuing misinformation. I am merely here to point out what to look for when purchasing fish oil and, in my opinion, what is the most beneficial form to consume. After spending hours researching and digging through information I nearly drove myself mad and am only slightly less confused as to what is the best fish oil found in nature.
We first need to define omega-3 fatty acids (and mention omega -6 fatty acids) which are often referred to as n-3 (and n-6) fatty acids. They are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in marine and plant oils as well as phytoplankton. These fatty acids are important because they are made into powerful regulatory hormones. Omega 3 fats are converted into anti-inflammatory hormones and omega 6 fats. They are considered essential fatty acids meaning they cannot be synthesized by the human body but are vital for normal metabolism. All omega 3’s “parent” molecule is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA from plants is converted by animals or fish to the highly anti-inflammatory fatty acids EPA and DHA. Fish metabolize the plant based ALA into a concentrated form of EPA and DHA. Fish oil contains this concentrated form of EPA and DHA which is why fish oil is a potent anti-inflammatory and has such numerous health benefits.
When describing the quality of fish oil, we come across the following terms that have no defined meaning: best, extra-distilled, high-potency, high-quality, pharmaceutical grade, professional grade, pure, purest, ultra-pure. At best, these are all marketing ploys and guarantee you nothing. When you see the term “marine lipids” it means “fish fat”. It does not clarify which fish they are referring to nor does it tell you from where the fish came. When purchasing fish oil you want the bottle to specify what species of fish the oil came from and, if possible, what waters the fish came from. Just like I advise everyone to refrain from purchasing farmed fish for consumption, one should also avoid fish oil from farmed fish. Fish farming is a plentiful source of fish oil and far worse than wild fish oil sources. Wild salmon eat fish, and have dark orange flesh, full of concentrated fish oil. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, are fed “commercial pellets”, producing a fish whose flesh must be artificially dyed orange for sale. They are also raised in their own muck and given massive doses of antibiotics that must be used for overcrowding and disease.
The preferred fish you want your fish oil supplement to come from is sardines, anchovies, herring, salmon and tuna- with sardines and anchovies as being the top two.
As a fish oil supplement- and remember we are talking about fish oil and not actually consuming the fish-we can do better than salmon oil. Salmon are high[er] up on the food chain than say, sardines or krill, so there can be a higher risk of contamination from toxins. The most common contaminants found in fish are mercury, PCBs, radioactive substances like strontium, and toxic metals such as lead, arsenic and cadmium. However, it takes a hell of a lot of consumption to have any adverse effects in the average human. And, the benefits of fish and fish oil consumption outweigh the risks associated. Two exceptions to this would be infants and women during pregnancy. GotMercury.org is a great website if you would like to see how high your intake of mercury might be.
The name sardine describes several types of small, oily saltwater fish such as herring. sprat, and pilchards. Cold-water fish, such as sardines, contain the highest amounts of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. One of the world’s first canned foods, the sardine, is rich in phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin B6, and niacin.
Anchovy oil is a good source of several nutrients including calcium, iron, phosphorous, niacin, selenium and protein. I didn’t come across any negative aspects associated with anchovy consumption.
This now takes us to the next point of discussion- liver oil supplements. These include the most popular, cod liver oil and shark liver oil. The primary benefits of cod liver oil other than omega-3 fatty acids are its naturally high levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin D. The presence of these vitamins is what differentiates cod liver oil from omega 3 fish oil. However, too much Vitamin A (retinol) from cod liver oil has been shown to produce hip fractures in various studies, so for some it might not be a good idea to take cod liver supplements. (1) Side effects of excess Vitamin A include joint aches, abdominal pains, skin rashes, mouth ulcers, and hair loss.
As a result of these findings, it is strongly suggested that a person stay away from cod liver oil if the Vitamin A level is too high. Unless you are looking to get more Vitamin A and D in your diet, most people would be much better off taking an omega 3 fish oil supplement made from fish low on the food chain, such as sardines, mackerel and anchovies. The reason for such small fish is that they accumulate less toxins during their relatively short lifespans.
Shark liver oil also contains omega-3s, but has other additional benefits like alkylglycerols (AKGs) and squalene. AKGs are taken for colds, flu & chronic infections and have been shown to increase white blood cell count. They’re also taken to speed up wound healing, and to improve inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and asthma. However, since sharks are high up on the food chain, some shark liver oils were found to have high levels of toxic pollutants such as mercury and PCBs -polychlorinated biphenyl.
Next up is krill oil. Some health experts, such as Dr. Joseph Mercola of drmercola.com tout it as being superior to fish oil. Others claim it is way too expensive, and isn’t a very concentrated source of EPA and DHA. Proponents of krill oil claim it is superior to fish oil because it contains phospholipids, antioxidants (about 47 times the level found in fish oil) and omega 3’s bonded together in a way that keeps them safe from oxidation and makes them easily absorbed in your body. Also, your risk of any mercury contamination is extremely low since krill are so small they do not have the chance to accumulate toxins before being harvested. So which one is better? I don’t know. Science goes both ways.
My advice is simple. Take them both. Cycle your fish oil fish liver oil supplements but, more importantly, eat a balanced diet that keeps your omega 3:6 profile to a 1:4 ratio or better. Ideally you want 1:1 but that is tough to attain.
What To Look For In A Fish Oil Supplement:
In order to be safe and to make sure you get all the health benefits of omega 3s in your diet, you should take fish oil supplements that meet the following criteria:
-Your fish oil must list the specific species of fish used to make the oil. Sardines and anchovies are the richest sources followed by salmon and tuna.
-Your fish oil must contain omega 3 fatty acids – not just “fish oil”. They are not the same thing.
-Read the labels! It should list the total amount of EPA and DHA. This should add up to the total amount of oils in the product. If they don’t, you’re being sold a bunch of fillers.
-The fish used for the oil should be health screened and disease free. Make sure that the manufacturer knows exactly where their fish are coming from. Do your research.
-Your fish oil should be guaranteed to be 100% pure. That means absolutely no toxins, heavy metals, or pesticides.
Stay away from fish oil that has been molecularly distilled. The distillation process alters the natural form of the oil. Yes, if done properly it may remove some of the toxins, but the oil is no longer in its natural state. As a matter of fact, molecular distillation causes the oil to be oxidized which can lead to rancidity. If your fish oil is molecularly distilled, you should be wondering how polluted the fish oil was to start with that they had to use such an aggressive purification process on it.
Fish oil has earned its standing as the hottest supplement on the market because it supplies compounds essential for disease prevention, human development, and increased performance (other than Vitamin D). For maximum results and safety, always take a close look at what you’re buying. This is one supplement where best is the only way to go. I will reiterate a point I made earlier. The benefits of consuming fish oil outweighs any negatives associated with contamination i.e. mercury, PCBs.
Written for LIFTBIGEATBIG.com by Dr. Wayne Broth
Dr. Wayne J. Broth earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science, pre-veterinary medicine, from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, and is a graduate from Palmer College of Chiropractic Florida. He was a recipient of the Clinical Excellence Award, Clinical Service Award, nominated for the Virgil Strang Philosophy Award, and also served as a Clinical Teaching Assistant at the Palmer College of Chiropractic Florida outpatient clinic. He obtained certification in electrodiagnosis and acupuncture and completed his clinical internship at the Rhode Island Spine Center under the guidance of renowned physician, Donald R. Murphy, DC, DACAN.
1. Serum Retinol Levels and the Risk of Fracture. Karl Michaëlsson, M.D., Hans Lithell, M.D., Bengt Vessby, M.D., and Håkan Melhus, M.D. N Engl J Med 2003; 348:287-294.
. Vitamin A Intake and Hip Fractures Among Postmenopausal Women. Diane Feskanich, ScD; Vishwa Singh, PhD; Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH; Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH. JAMA. 2002;287(1):47-54.
3. Mozaffarian, Dariush; Rimm, Eric B. (October 2006). “Fish intake, contaminants, and human health: evaluating the risks and the benefits”. JAMA 296 (15): 1885–1899.