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IS FISH OIL REALLY THAT IMPORTANT?

By Dr. Neil Levin DC, CFT.



Yes!!

I tell my patients all the time that fish oil is the single most important nutrient you can take.  Let’s review why. 

Just 150 to 200 years ago people ate meat from cows or wild game that grazed on grass and ate leaves and berries.  The eggs they ate were from birds that free ranged in the fields, scratching at the ground for food.  These animals were lean with low body fat; yet because of their diets the meat from these animals supplied a good level of healthy omega 3 fats. 

Today, cows and chickens are fed grains which are rich in Omega 6 fats, but low in Omega 3 fats.  They are also given steroids to fatten them up, and antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections due to overcrowded conditions.  The result is that cows now have high body fat (up to 25-30%).  Steak derived from these animals is high in saturated fat and low in the healthy Omega 3 fats.  Grain fed chickens, while lower in saturated fat, are also low in Omega 3’s.

This represents a dramatic change in the proportion of essential fatty acids that we consume.  For instance, a free range chicken egg from a bird that is actually “free ranging,” i.e. eating grass, insects and worms in the field, will have about 15 times the amount of Omega 3’s that a commercial egg has.  We also tend to eat very little fish, which are high in the desirable EPA and DHA Omega 3 fatty acids; and the fish we do eat is often farm raised which are lower in omega 3's than wild caught (but more expensive) fish.

The scenario gets even worse.  At the same time we have been consuming less of the Omega 3’s, we are consuming much higher levels of the Omega 6 family of fats. The vegetable oils from corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed are all rich in omega 6 fats.  These represent the lion’s share of the oils that are consumed in America.  They are in the dressings, processed foods, fast foods, pastas, breads, french fries etc.  This is a radical shift in the type of essential fatty acids that we consume, over a very short period of time.  Our bodies have not had time to adapt to this dramatic dietary shift and we are paying for it with our health. 

The omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats compete for the same enzymes.  When the delicate balance of these fatty acids is off we don’t make the appropriate healthy hormones (prostoglandins) that the omega-3 class of fats should create. 

Researchers calculate that people used to consume a ratio of Omega 6 fats to Omega 3 fats of 1 or 2:1.  Now, with the changes in our food supply and eating habits, our ratio is closer to 20:1.  That represents about a 500% change in the ratio of fats that we eat.  This dietary change manifests itself throughout our bodies.  It has a negative impact on every one of our 6 trillion cells. 

The brain is dependent upon dietary intake of DHA to create nerve cell membranes with the right balance of essential fatty acids to enhance function.  These membranes should be rich in DHA so that they are flexible and fluid.  At the synapse, where one brain neuron “speaks” to another, and dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters need to flow easily and quickly through these membranes it is especially important that these membranes are high in DHA. 

Yet, our diets starve our brains of DHA.  This creates a real risk of reduced thinking, memory, verbal skills, vision and mood.  Do you want to run the risk of thinking with less efficiency?  Do you want to run the risk of cognitive decline as you get older?  I’m sure you don’t.

The good news is that study after study show positive mental changes and cognitive protection, with the addition of Omega 3 fatty acids.  These benefits include: improved cognition (thinking), short and long term memory, mood, verbal skills and the ability to rapidly solve problems. 

In infants who consume high levels of DHA, a normal component of breastmilk, researchers note improved brain development, visual acuity and eye hand coordination.  So much so, that DHA, is now added to infant formula.

As if that weren’t enough of a reason to supplement with Omega 3’s, EPA and DHA from fish oil also positively influence triglyceride levels, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, circulation, heart rhythm, reduce our risk of blood clots and arrhythmias, protect us from several types of cancer, protect vision, strengthen our bones, improve our skin and reduce inflammation throughout our bodies including our joints.

These positive benefits are a mainly a result of balancing the fatty acid levels in our cell membranes.  These membranes are very biologically active.  They produce ecosinoid hormones and regulate the flow of nutrients and waste in and out of our cells.  If you don’t consume enough Omega 3’s they become stiffer and less able to perform their jobs well.  The levels of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats in the membrane also influence the types of ecosinoid hormones produced. 

When we supplement with Omega 3’s we bring balance back to these membranes allowing them to produce a better mix of hormones leading to the positive changes which researchers are finding and which are outlined above.

Get your omega 3’s from fish oil rather than flax.  The omega-3 provided by flax oil is ALA.   It is hard for the human body to convert ALA to the types of omega 3’s which our bodies utilize, namely EPA & DHA.  The conversion rate is only about 2-15% and decreases with age and disease.  So choose fish derived omega 3’s to achieve the benefits described in this article.

Take at least 1000 mgs. of EPA and DHA per day.  Read labels.  Turn the bottle over and look for the amount of EPA and DHA per capsule.  Check and make sure that the amounts given are per capsule.  If the amounts provided are from 2 or 3 capsules, do the math.  Add the EPA and DHA  together and make sure they add up to at least 1000 mgs.  The supplement should be pharmaceutical grade, guaranteed to be free of mercury and other contaminants.

It will take about 2 months to make substantial changes in the fatty acid distribution of your cell membranes, however many of my patients and I have noticed improved cognition and skin in just a week or two. 


Consult with your physician before adding Omega 3’s if you are taking blood thinners.