Fish Oil, is there something Fishy going on?
One million years ago when I studied Naturopathy, Fish Oil was the bomb! The be all end all if you will… In fact, if you weren’t taking Fish Oil you were a mug and frankly, not going to live very long. Fish Oil ‘prevented’ diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, and cancer, not to mention it would make you smarter and even make you more attractive to the opposite sex (ok, I made the last one up but you get my point). But, does Fish Oil live up to the hype? Is it the elixir of youth, healthy brains and disease-free old age?
The Evolution of Fish Oils
Once the only oil everyone needed, we now know there is more to it than just needing one type of fat for optimum health. Fish Oils are made up of essentially EPA and DHA, which are some of the Omega 3 fatty acids the body needs and there is no doubt that they are beneficial for some aspects of health. After all, they do reduce inflammation and are required for membrane structure, however; they are not the only oil we need… not even by a long shot! Let us look at what is essential in terms of fat for the body.
The Essential Fatty Acids
Only two fatty acids are known to be essential for humans: Alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and Linoleic Acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). Did you notice EPA and DHA aren’t mentioned in this sentence? There is a very good reason for this. They are simply not essential fatty acids. In other words, the body doesn’t need them because the body can make them from the omega 3 essential fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid). Thus, the body has the ability to make EPA and DHA given that the body is supplied with alpha-linolenic acid from the diet. Along with supplying this omega 3 fat, the body needs to have adequate nutrient levels to ensure the conversion takes place. You also make all sorts of other cool omega 3 fats also.
Is Fish Oil Sustainable?
In a word, no. Farming fish or worse, harvesting them from the ocean (wild caught) is not ideal. The number of resources to feed farmed fish, so as the fish can grow enough to give up significant amounts of oil, requires huge amounts of resources. Of course, wild caught fish is an even a worse idea because of the huge requirements for fish oils worldwide.
A better option…
Considering the need to look after our environment as well as our bodies, we now know there are better options to supplement our essential fatty acid requirements. For example, hemp seed oil contains the essential fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid, and linoleic acid. This means that given the right nutrition, people can make their own EPA and DHA (‘fish’ oils), as well as making all the other cool/beneficial fats that our essential fatty acids can be converted into. Also, giving someone EPA and DHA can cause disruption to pathways of the omega 3 oils. Also, there are also the omega 5, 7, 9 and 11s to consider in this equation, don’t forget about these!
The take-home message
In some circumstances, EPA/DHA Fish Oil may be beneficial, however; recently, science has realized we need more than two types of fat. We need a broad spectrum of essential fatty acids from sustainable, plant-based oils. EPA and DHA are only one kind of fat (the omega 3s). The body is smarter than this and can make these ‘fish oils’ as required and in a regulated way. In other words, eat well and supplement with the essential fatty acid spectrum and not just one type of oil.