Fish Oil 101

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I get a lot of questions about fish oil.  Here are some capsules of wisdom I have heard over the years when it comes to omega goodness.  Most of this information comes from Robb Wolf and Whole Nine, which are always excellent resources!

Fish do not produce omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids are found in green leaves of plants, like grass, phytoplankton, algae and seaweed.  This is the food that our food is designed to eat, which is why it is important to eat grass-fed beef and certain types of wild caught fish as much as possible as these are natural sources of omega-3’s.  The average Americans diet does not consist of high quality meat; most Americans consume processed foods (corn, sunflower, arachidonic acid/peanut oil, etc), vegetable oil and fast food, which leaves the average American walking around lacking in omega-3’s and over producing omega-6 fatty acids.  The goal should be for a 1:1 ratio of omega 3 and omega 6, but unfortunately with our western diet the ratio looks more like 1:20, leaving most of us with way too much omega 6.  This can then be associated to inflammation, gut irritation, and the list goes on.

So how do we get to the 1:1 ratio? If you have already started to clean up your diet and you’re are going paleo or already are paleo, and you would love to eat grass-fed and wild caught, but it just isn’t in your budget…then think about getting some good quality fish oil.  Not all fish oil is the same.  When buying fish oil look at the DHA/EPA.  For example:  If you are taking 1000 mg = 1 capsule (1 gram), and it only contains 300 mg of DHA/EPA one would wonder what the remaining 700 mg are made up of, right?  If the bottle simply says that it yields omega 3’s then the pills most likely have extras you don’t want per mg in the capsules.  Not to mention other unpleasantries such as the fish burps or allergenic (from the coating of the fish oil pills). A concentrated source means you have to take fewer pills or teaspoons a day – it’s more efficient, and makes it more likely that you’ll actually take your recommended dose each day.  Finally, decide whether you want a liquid or capsule.  I prefer liquid, because liquid forms are often more concentrated than pills.  Bottom Line – High quality fish oil (EPA/DHA) is a natural anti-inflammatory agents, and as such, plays a role in brain health, heart health, protection against cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression, improvement of skin conditions like psoriasis and acne, fetal brain development, inflammatory bowel disorders, and arthritis, to name a few.

Personally, I take Carlson’s as you can order it on Amazon, the ingredients are squeaky clean, and it has more EPA and DHA per teaspoon (1.8 grams).  Now that you have your fish oil; be sure to keep it in a dark and cold place.  This will ensure your fish oil will not go bad.  I keep mine fish oil in my freezer. If your pills don’t have a dark capsule coating and/or come in a light colored bottle, this is especially important.  Fish oil reacts to light and heat, and can turn rancid.  Rancid fish oil – obvious based on the smell – should be immediately discarded.

So how many grams should you be taking?  This is a personal preference, but I would recommend at least 2,000-5,000 mg a day.  However, if you eat lots of wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef and other natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and generally avoid sources of omega-6 (like vegetable oils, factory-farmed meat, nuts and seeds), you may not need any fish oil supplementation at all.  Always take fish oil with meals.  This reduces the chance of stomach upset or “fish burps”.  Sandwiching your fish oil inside a meal – one bite of food, then our fish oil, followed by the rest of our meal.  And split your dose up throughout the day, especially if you’re at a 3,000 mg.  Finally, if you’re new to fish oil, ramp up to your recommended dose slowly.  Your digestive tract will tell you – and things will “move along” far too quickly for comfort if you take too much fish oil.

Someone always asks what about cod liver oil?  I heard it’s a good source of fish oil PLUS vitamins A and D.  The answer is – There have been some concerns about the level of vitamins A and D in cod liver oil.  The excessively high levels of vitamin A can prove toxic at my recommended EPA/DHA dose.  In addition, the amount of vitamin D in cod liver oil are pretty low – meaning you’re not really getting a good boost of D.  Plus there are some smart folks who believe that high levels of vitamin A will limit the effectiveness of vitamin D, which could potentially lead to a D deficiency. In summary, if you want to stick with the cod liver oil, do NOT use our Fish Oil Calculator for your dosage recommendations. A better choice, in our opinion, would be to stick with fish oil.

In closing in the words of Whole Nine – you can’t fish oil your way out of poor dietary choices, lack of sleep, over-training or any combination of the above. It’s of the utmost important that you get your dietary and lifestyle house in order!   More fish oil is not better – and in some instances, can do more harm than good.  So make better food choices, get to bed earlier, allow yourself more time to rest and recover and do your best to minimize stress – and don’t rely on any pill or supplement to fix your stuff.

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