Chewing the Omega Fat

Finding quality sources of omega fat is an interesting pursuit—with lots of conflicting messages. Now, the media tends to beat the fish and oils drum. Take this article by Astrid Pujari, M.D. of The Seattle Times for example. Here’s a bit:
Flaxseed oil has a basic type of omega 3 fat known as alpha-linolenic acid. Your body can use it to make two different types of omega 3 fats known as EPA and DHA.

Now let's say you want a shortcut. Instead of your body making the fats yourself, you go to the store and buy them ready-made. That is what buying fish oil is like…

…So to be sure they are getting enough EPA and DHA, many people just choose to eat cold-water fish or take fish oil. Examples of cold-water fish include salmon, sardines, herring, kipper and mackerel. Shellfish such as oysters, shrimp and scallops contain lesser amounts.

Flaxseed oil also has health benefits that may be different — or even complementary — from those of fish oil. That makes sense because it has a different type of omega 3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid.
Okay, if there’s one thing I learned about this topic is that it’s more complicated than it seems. You’ve got to be really careful about which sources of omega fat you choose. First let’s look at flaxseed oil. Dr. Fuhrman explains:
I do not recommend the use of flaxseed oil or flaxseed oil supplements. Flaxseed oil is pure fat and virtually devoid of all or most of the nutrients (except for vitamin E) found in ground flaxseed. Also, flaxseed oil is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), and there is evidence that extracted PUFA oils may suppress the immune system, and possibly increase the growth rate of certain cancers and/or tumors. If you want the benefit of flaxseed, eat the ground seeds and avoid the oil.
That was rather blunt—scratch that idea! Alright, moving on. Now what about fish oil? Not to spoil the surprise, but, Dr. Fuhrman has more than a few choices words for most fish oils; quite the fishy predicament. More from Dr. Fuhrman:
One problem with fish oils is that much of the fat has already turned rancid. If you have ever cut open a capsule and tasted it, you will find it can taste like gasoline. Many people complain of burping, indigestion and of fish breath. I have also observed that rancidity of this fish fat places a stress on the liver. Patients of mine with abnormal liver function noted on their blood tests when consuming fish oil have had these tests return to normal when the fish oils were stopped.
Fish oil no. Flaxseed oil no. What’s left? Surely consuming whole fish has got to be a good idea. After all, just last week a health coalition recommended women eat fish while pregnant. Time for Dr. Fuhrman to chime in again, take a look:
Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) that interfere with blood clotting much the same way aspirin does. Once you have significant atherosclerosis, it is helpful to take such anti-clotting agents, especially if you continue a dangerous diet. These fish derived-fats also have some effect on protecting the arterial walls from damage from other fats.

However, the best way to prevent a heart attack or stroke is to follow a high-nutrient diet with little or no animal products, thereby ensuring that such blockages don't develop in the first place. Then eating fish won't matter. In fact, the reason fish-derived fats, EPA and DHA, are not considered essential fats is that almost all people have enzymes to convert the plant-derived omega-3 fat rapidly into EPA and DHA.1

Fish is a double-edged sword, especially because fish has been shown to increase heart attack risk if polluted with mercury.2 It seems that the cardioprotective effects of eating a little fish is lost when you eat lots of fish, most likely because lots of fish exposes you to high mercury levels, which can promote lipid peroxidation.3 Lipid peroxidation plays a major role in the development of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
Rather daunting on all fronts. So then, if fish, fish oil, and flaxseed oil all have problems, what are good sources of health omega fats, DHA, and EPA? Rather than beat around the bush, here’s more from Dr. Fuhrman:
Flax Seeds are rich in lignans and omega-3 fatty acids, and scientific studies have confirmed that flax seeds have a positive influence on everything from cholesterol levels and constipation to cancer and heart disease. Keep in mind that the scientifically documented benefits from flax seeds come from raw, ground flax seed, not flax seed oil.

If you were looking for a substitute for eating fish in that article, it was okay to mention flaxseeds as a source of short chain omega-3, but since they only convert about 2.5 percent into DHA, they do not supply what fish do (EPA and DHA) long-chain omega 3. My DHA Purity is a better option to supply what fish could, not flax. My DHA Purity is refrigerated because these oils can go rancid easily and we take extra care to preserve its cleanliness and freshness.

Also, there are other brands of non-fish DHA, but they are not refrigerated the whole time from manufacturing, shipping and storage like ours are. And when I tested the competitive brands in independent analysis they had very high rancidity scores.

You can buy a clean fish oil, a few of the best brands are purified and tested not to have the contamination and mercury that fish does, but that is still a limited resource (over-fishing) not a renewable resource like our DHA made from micro-algae grown under clean indoor conditions.
Clearly, eating healthfully requires some careful thinking and decision making—who would have thought!
1. Siguel, E.N., and M. Macture. 1987. Relative enzyme activity of unsaturated fatty acid metabolic pathways in humans. Metabolism 36: 664-69

2. Salonen, J. T., K. Seppanen, K. Nyyssonen, et al. 1995. Intake of mercury from fish, lipid peroxidation, and the risk of myocardial infarcation and coronary, cardiovascular, and any death in eastern Finnish men. Circulation 91: 645-55.

3. Salonen, op. cit.
Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Steve - October 15, 2007 1:06 PM

Didn't know that flax seed oil could suppress the immune system. Glad I'm taking it the natural way using milled flax seed then. I wouldn't want to take fish oil either. Wouldn't risk the potential chemical contamination.

shaziahamid - August 5, 2010 3:55 PM

what are the benefits of flex seeds for fatty liver patients?

Post A Comment / Question Use this form to add a comment to this entry.

Remember personal info?