The Downsides of Fish Oil (and What to Use Instead)

| Aug 8, 2017

In past articles, we’ve talked about the importance of omega-3 essential fatty acids. The Standard American diet is notoriously low in them—instead, it’s packed with omega-6s. Over the course of human evolution there has been a dramatic change in the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fats consumed in the diet.

This change, perhaps more than any other dietary factor, has contributed to the epidemic of modern disease. We need both types of fatty acid, but the ideal ratio is around 1:1 (the average American consumes a ratio of up to 25:1 omega-6s to omega-3s).

Proper diet is crucial for balancing this ratio. Start by cutting out or minimizing some of the omega-6-heavy foods that dominate the American diet—processed vegetable oils, packaged salad dressings and mayonnaise, chips and similar snacks, fast food, cookies and other sweets, pork, chicken, beef, and dairy—many of which carry other health risks and don’t offer much in the way of optimal nutrition.

Replace these foods with lots of organic whole foods, especially omega-3-rich choices like nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, sea vegetables, and wild rice.

Many experts insist, however, that plant sources of omega-3s are not sufficient, as they contain only ALA, a form of omega-3 that is more difficult for your body to convert into a usable form. For this reason, fish oil has been touted as the answer to omega-3 deficiency.

There’s certainly evidence to suggest that the consumption of fish and fish oil can offer health benefits ranging from healthy bones and decreased systemic inflammation to balanced mood and protection for the brain and heart.

The famous diet of Okinawa, a Japanese island with one of the largest populations of centenarians (people who live to be over 100), consists mainly of rice, fish, and sea vegetables.

But is fish oil actually the best choice?

The findings above have made fish oil by far the most popular choice for omega-3 supplementation, but it’s not quite the perfect supplement it’s often portrayed to be. Here’s a number of considerations, both personal and ecological, that should make you think twice about using it.

Contamination. You’ve probably heard warnings about the potential for mercury contamination in fish—and if you haven’t taken them seriously yet, you should. Studies continually demonstrate that there is no safe level for mercury consumption,[1] despite what the fishing industry would like us to believe.

And mercury is just the beginning. Tests have revealed a staggering variety of other highly toxic contaminants in fish, including other toxic metals like cadmium, lead, chromium, and arsenic, PCBs, PCPs, PDEs, dioxin, and strontium and other radioactive substances.

Because fish oil is essentially a concentrate of all the compounds found in fish, it therefore runs the risk of having even higher levels of contamination. Lawsuits have even been filed against major fish oil brands by environmentalists, who claim that many products still contain unsafe levels of myriad chemicals.

Rancidity. Even fish oil brands who claim to have solved contamination issues still have to contend with its incredible instability. Oxidation can occur at any point during processing, and tends to accelerate as soon as you open the bottle. Rancidity not only robs fish oil of its benefits, but actually can make it dangerously toxic—the free radicals created through oxidation cause systemic inflammation, tax the immune system, and can even increase the risk for heart disease and other serious conditions.

Industry research has shown that over 50% of all commercially available fish oil products “exceeded limits for at least one measure of oxidation” (and that was when the product was still sealed on store shelves).[2]

Lack of sustainability. Last but most certainly not least, the consumption of fish and fish oil is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Regardless of your thoughts about using animals as a food source, we can no longer deny that the world’s fish population is being rapidly depleted. Marine researchers have been urging fisheries to temper their practices for years, fearing that ocean ecosystems are on the verge of collapse.

While personal health is obviously very important, we must also make choices that consider health of our planet—especially when there are sustainable alternatives available.

A sustainable, vegetarian, toxin-free alternative

Luckily, an alternative omega-3 source has emerged that addresses all of these issues: DHA from algae.

As toxicity and sustainability issues began to create controversy, product formulators realized that they could be circumvented by going to the bottom of the food chain. After all, fish get their omega-3s from eating DHA-rich algae, so why not skip right to the source?

Algae is also far less prone to contamination, and is far more of a renewable resource than the world’s diminishing fish population.

While all omega-3s are very fragile and easily oxidized, algal DHA products have been shown to be at least five times more stable than any other omega-3 oils (especially fish oil).

Stability (and bioavailability) is further increased when DHA products are nano-encapsulated (through liposome or micelle technology) and combined with antioxidant-rich ingredients (which, as their name suggests, prevent oxidation).

We highly recommend this product which is a combination of high quality Algae DHA, Curcumin and Ginger and supports the brain as well as your body’s natural anti-inflammatory processes.

Whichever product you choose, be sure to give algal omega-3 supplements a chance—they’ll offer the same benefits without any of the downsides discussed above.


References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3096006/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4681158/

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