I swear since Things 1-3 arrival I wake up ever earlier and strangely, this morning, as I sip on raw milk Chai Masala (heaven in a cup) in my freakishly chilly yet very fresh mountain home looking overlooking the greenery and splendor of Harissa, Things 1 and 2 happily sleeping in their Pack & Play next to me (Thing 3 doing well and about to be released from the hospital this week….FINALLY…. ), I am reminded of how when I am enjoying the moment instead of pondering my “next move” in life, I am more centered and at peace.

With that “thought for the day” I am about to rock your world (and make a LOT of enemies in the bargain I am certain) when I tell you that fish oil supplement (or cod liver supplement) you take daily for your boost of Omega-3 may not be doing you as much good and may even be harming your health.

Are you still with me or have you run screaming from the room?

In our last segment we discussed the dangers of PUFAs.  I loved some of the comments I got from people that just couldn’t wrap their head around how grains and nuts quite possibly are not the best food choices (gasp) for health.  Some even insisted these things could even be healthy for you.  I get it, I do.  I “drank the kool-aid” as I went through my nutrition training too.  Even as I studied Integrative and Functional Medicine, I fell head over heels in love with eating bushels of nuts, nut milks in lieu of dairy, nut pates and even (the greatest heresy of all) Vegan Cheesecake.  (Sorry beauties, for all of you out there happily delving into your nut “cheeses” I have to say, there is nothing better than REAL cheesecake!)  I ate beans by the truckload (still eat a few in small amounts), and for someone to tell me I didn’t have to give up or cut down on grains…. it was Nirvana.  Nirvana until a year later I found my triglycerides were through the roof and I had a rip roaring zinc deficiency.

That should not have happened on a predominantly raw vegan diet.  And before I get comments like “Oh this is your detox phase.”, let me assure you, I gave this more than a good college try.  My nails were breaking; nay, peeling and breaking.  My hair no longer had a shine, my skin had lost its lustre.  I’m sure there are those that thrive but I am a firm believer estrogen dominance, an intestinal tract with micro tears, and vitamin and mineral imbalances catch up to you eventually.  Metabolisms will slow down even if you are a lean, mean, fighting machine now.  PUFAs, in vast quantities or bad combinations, are now and will always be bad news.

 

That brings me to the obsession people seem to have with taking handfuls of fish oil.  Wild Alaskan salmon oil, cod liver oil, even krill oil figure heavily in the rota of endless supplements people reach for these days.  But is this habit really helping really helping your cardiovascular health, moods, periods, or the countless numbers of conditions they claim to treat?  The facts might shock you.

The Rancid Truth

If you are an avid reader of The Detox Diva then you know I advocate an Omega-6 to Omega-3 balance of 1:1 in order to prevent and treat diseases such as cardiovascular, cancer, autoimmune illness, thyroid issues, estrogen dominance and many other health problems.  Many people take vast amounts of fish oils in hopes of balancing what is upwards of 16:1 (in favor of Omega-6) in a Standard American Diet.  The problem begins in the processing, manufacturing, and selling of these fish oils.

Fish oil is rich in Omega-3, rich in DHA and EPA , which is a polyunsaturated fat this means the fat molecule has more than one hydrogen bond and those bonds are not that strong in the presence of oxidation meaning they are highly unstable.  When digested, the bonds are easily broken creating free radicals.   The body is able to stabilize or scavenge a small number of these free radicals with antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase and even cholesterol and uric acid.

These fragile oils start to oxidize very quickly once manufactured and, since most sit in warehouses (many lacking in climate control), and on shelves for months, the chances that the fish oil is already rancid is very high.   The Crop and Food Research Institute in New Zealand tested a large number of brands from around the world and found the majority had begun the oxidation process.  To say taking rancid fish oils will not benefit those that take them is an understatement.  Rancid fish oils can actually increase risk of atherosclerosis and thrombosis (hardening of the arteries and dangerous blood clotting that could lead to death).  That’s a bad thing especially since many take these supplements assuming it is reversing that risk.

Interesting factoid::  Fish oil has been used by various industries as paints and varnishes for its ability to oxidize and therefore polymerize quickly.

Rancid fish oils has been linked to accelerated aging as a result of their creation of “age pigment” cells.  These types of cells contribute, over time, to degenerative diseases such as liver disease (especially contributing to NAFLD or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), heart disease, neurological disorders , and has even been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.

This rancidity also leads to a weakened immune system causing a reduced ability to fight off viral and bacterial diseases.

The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) conducted a review of 20 studies finding that neither eating fish nor taking fish oils as supplements reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death.

For those of you who are taking fish oils to increase brain power or prevent cognitive decline studies published on behalf of the Cochrane Collaboration came to the conclusion that fish oil pills failed to treat or prevent cognitive decline.   Although many studies have linked consumption of fish oil to reduced depression, a 2011 meta-analysis by Yale University researchers debunked the idea that omega-3s alleviate any depressive episodes.  For those of you who believe you are getting results from fish oils, I would urge you to check your sources of fish oils and keep them refrigerated at all times.

I know most of you would say this is alarmist but rancid oils are toxic and like it or not, fish oils are often rancid before they hit shelves.  I don’t make the rules.

Side effects

More people than I want to imagine claim they suffer from the fish oil “burps”.  Let’s face it, a lot of fish oil repeat on you and when it does, it’s just not pretty.  nausea, diarrhea, loose stools, decreased appetite, constipation, vomiting and fat in the stool. These gastrointestinal side effects can be minimized if fish oils are taken with meals and if doses are started low and gradually increased but if fish oils are rancid, the chances that these side effects will continue is great.

Omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to increased blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and for those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. If taking fish oils with hypoglycemia or diabetes, have blood sugar monitored by a health care professional on a regular basis.
Omega-3 fatty acids may increase low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (LDL) and can worsen symptoms for patients with ventricular tachycardia, increase the risk of bleeding, and may decrease blood pressure.
Fish oil taken over a long period of time may cause a deficiency of vitamin E and may increase the risk of vitamin A or D toxicity so avoiding high doses are imperative..
People with hormonal imbalance or those undergoing hormone replacement therapy should use cautiously, as decreased estrogen receptor production (making it impossible to metabolize estrogen at healthy levels) has been associated with fish oil supplementation.
Patients with asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, or liver disease, or those at risk for colon cancer should seriously consider leaving the fish oil supplements behind based on potential adverse effects associated with fish oil use.
If all of this weren’t enough, think of mercury toxicity.  All wild caught fish and shellfish have some form of mercury.  This shouldn’t stop you from eating it in small amounts (especially with cilantro which can help chelate mercury out of the bloodstream) a few times a week but mercury is mercury and in many supplements claiming to be from wild caught fish or krill, and because mercury is present in the “fat” of the fish (and the fatty tissue is where much of the oil is derived) mercury can occur at at an exponentially higher level.
Please understand that much of the fish oils (especially cod liver oil) is manufactured from farm raised fish and these fish are often fed grains and other “bits” that raise the Omega-6 levels to less than optimal ratios to Omega-3 basically nullifying any positive effects from fish oil.

Sustainability issues

Because the demand for a “quick fix” for a host of health issues that fish oils claims to treat has reached a fever pitch, manufacturers of fish oils (especially those deriving their fish oils from Menhaden) are guilty of dramatic overfishing disturbing the life cycles of many water ways..  Many Atlantic states have banned fish oil producers from fishing their waters though Federal waters and a few states still allow this fishing. Menhaden are the “street sweepers” of the Atlantic filtering four to six gallons of water of algae per minute.  This algae, if left unchecked, prevents oxygen from proliferating in water which can cause dead zones in water.  (This is bad because nothing will grow or thrive.)

If you must take fish oils, I ask that you find locally sourced, fresh batched, refrigerated sources.  I can’t honestly make a recommendation about one that could be classified as truly sustainable and healthy.

I was once one of those taking handfuls of fish supplements and cod liver oil.  I ate wild caught salmon daily and still my lipid profile went very wonky.  I have since stopped using fish oils and though I do eat oily fish on occasion, I prefer wild caught shellfish or white fish cooked in either butter, ghee, or coconut oil and only every once in awhile.

Refrigerated flax seeds and chia seeds in small amounts can be used to create a lot of the DHA and EPA which creates Omega-3 in the body but even these should be kept to a reasonable amount.  If you are eating plenty of vegetables you should be getting adequate Omega-3.

Wishing you peace and balance,

Jacqueline