Fish is a very healthy addition to any diet, but I have been hearing more and more lately that naturopathic colleagues of mine and “those in the know” are eating less fish or avoiding it altogether due to our (humans’) pollution of the environment and the fish that live in it. This is extremely disheartening – both for the fact that we put big industry and money before the health and welfare of our Earth, and for the fact that eating this highly-nutritious source of protein now carries with it health risks. A quick Google of “pollution fish” will bring up dozens of sites that list the chief concern with ingesting fish: mercury toxicity. There are now fish-consumption advisories about eating certain species of fish or from certain lakes or regions in Canada. Shame on us for polluting our environment to the point of making fish consumption hazardous!
So, why is fish such a healthy choice? Well, it’s low in fat, high in protein, high in minerals and vitamins, and – especially important – high in the omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexenoic acid).
These fatty acids have been linked to healthy aging, proper fetal development, improved cardiovascular function, balancing mood disorders such as ADHD and depression, and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.1,2 At a cellular level, they work their way into the fatty phospholipid bilayer that makes up the membrane of every cell in our body. When the cell has to ‘snip’ a fat off the membrane to use for cellular function, it has more of the anti-inflammatory EPA and DHA fats to choose from. That’s an important point not to miss: the EPA and DHA have a tendency to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation in the arteries and veins, in the cellular tissue, in the brain, in the organs, in the gut. This makes them an important part of autoimmune and pain-management protocols.
Krill oil may be an exciting new option, so watch for more research surfacing in the coming years. Also, a benefit to krill oil is that it is such a small species (crustacean) that it doesn’t bioaccumulate toxins to the same extent larger fish like salmon do.
“Krill omega-3 phospholipids, containing mostly phosphatidylcholine (PC) with DHA/EPA attached, markedly outperformed conventional fish oil DHA/EPA triglycerides in double-blind trials for premenstrual syndrome/dysmenorrhea and for normalizing blood lipid profiles. Krill omega-3 phospholipids demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity, lowering C-reactive protein (CRP) levels [a marker for inflammation in the body] in a double-blind trial. Utilizing DHA and EPA together with phospholipids and membrane antioxidants to achieve a triple cell membrane synergy may further diversify their currently wide range of clinical applications.” 2
Deep-sea, cold water fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel have the greatest amounts of omega 3’s, and tuna and swordfish should be avoided as they have the greatest accumulation of mercury.
Going one step beyond eating wild fish is the purchase of a fish oil. There are so many different types that line the shelves of health food stores that it makes it difficult to know which to purchase. Essentially, you’re interested in purchasing one that is pharmaceutical grade, meaning:
- It’s manufactured in a certified-GMP facility (Good Manufacturing Practices, Canada’s top regulation for health food products)
- Quality control steps ensure the oil is free from lipid peroxides, heavy metals, environmental contaminates and other substances that negatively impact the body
- It provides at least 60% concentration of EPA and DHA compared to the other fatty acids in the oil
- It contains enough of the antioxidant vitamin E to protect the fatty acids against premature oxidation and rancidity
Pharmaceutical-grade fish oils will be extracted without the use of chemical solvents, will have low environmental impact (ie. through the harvesting of wild fish such as anchovies, sardines and mackerel that are not endangered), they will leave no contaminants in the oil (eg. PCBs, dioxins, pesticides, molds or heavy metals), and will use a minimal amount of heat during the manufacturing process. You should have no repeat (burping up of “fish odor or taste”), nor be able to tell you’re swallowing a spoonful of fish oil (ok, perhaps just a hint of fish will peak out behind the lemon or mango-flavored oil that you picked).
We have come a long way since our mothers made us drink tablespoons of cod liver oil during childhood illnesses – the research on the health benefits of EPA and DHA continue to stack up and the manufacturers continue to compete for products of the highest purity and bioavailability4. If you have questions about whether fish oil is a supplement that is right for you, please ask at our next appointment.
- Get a Grip on Arthritis by Lorna Vanderhaeghe, 2004
- Quell Fish Oil, Supercritical CO2 Triglyceride; a Douglas Laboratories brochure