Something Smells Fishy About Fish Oil
If I told you that taking one particular supplement would prevent you from experiencing everything from arthritis pain to cancer, you probably start taking the supplement immediately with enthusiasm. Right? But doesn’t something smell fishy about a miracle supplement? Yes, it smells fishy because this cure for everything is fish oil.
Because this omega-3 fatty acid supplement is usually made from cold water fish like herring, tuna and mackerel, someone creatively decided to market it as fish oil. And guess what, people actually buy it. Natural supplements are a billion dollar industry full of profiteers. Not even the all-wise Dr. Andrew Weil can resist profits. Only he markets his fish oil as “Omega-3 Support” for $51.99 per month. Come on Dr. Weil, tell the truth: just say $52 per month or $624 per year for super fancy fish oil with some vitamins. Something smells fishy here.
Sure, plenty of research has shown the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. For example, Omega-3 consumption can help lower triglyceride levels. In turn, Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be heart protective. But what is the real story? The whole story about the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids is much bigger than taking a few fish oil capsules every day.
The true health benefits are found when the ratio of the Omegas is balanced. Both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids need to be balanced. Even Dr. Weil should know that taking massive amounts of fish oil/Omega-3 supplements does not give Americans permission to continue consuming too much Omega-6. Yet, this is all you hear: take Omega-3 and you will be saved from all the common diseases. That smells fishy.
Omega-3 is just half of the story. As mentioned, the bigger picture about the health benefits of Omega-3 is really about the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. Many researchers are starting to acknowledge that all of the health benefits are actually realized when the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is low (called a low n6 n3 ratio). Low means in the neighborhood of 3:1, 2:1 or even 1:1. No one is really sure how low the ratio needs to actually be in order to get the full health benefits. What is known is that A low amount of Omega-6 compared to Omega-3 protects the teeth from dental disease. A low omega ratio reduces the symptoms of asthma, an inflammatory disease. In fact, all forms of inflammation are reduced when the Omega’s are balanced. In turn, research has shown that the incidence of prostate cancer is higher in those with a high Omega-6 Omega-3 ratio. So, in order to really experience the benefits of Omega-3, you must lower your Omega-6 consumption. Theoretically, if you lowered your Omega-6 consumption enough, you would not need to take fish oil because your natural, healthier diet would contain enough Omega-3. Oops, I just rained on someone’s profits.
The truth to this fishy story is that you do not need to take fish oil if you eat less Omega-6 containing foods and eat more Omega-3 containing foods. So let me list the Omega-6 foods you need to eat less of: red meats, corn oil and products made with corn oil like crackers, cereal, bread and chips, and almonds. Now which foods are high in Omega-3? Flax seed, flax seed oil, eggs, milk, walnuts and of course cold water fish all contain high amounts of Omega-3. Arming yourself with this information, you too can shift your ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 into a healthy range without fleecing some else’s pockets. Besides, who really wants to take fish oil anyway? Balance your Omega fatty acids and clear the air of that fishy smell.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.