Hidden Dangers Of The Fish Oil Fad
Today I’ve got some very important news for you. As usual, big business has been leading you astray and possibly harming your health. If you’ve been advised to take a fish oil supplement daily for the long term, that advice could be harming you. Read on and I’ll tell you why and what you can do instead to protect your health.
The Rise Of Fish Oil
Years ago researchers noted that the Inuit eating their traditional diet that included large amounts of fatty fish and sea mammals had almost no heart disease or other diseases associated with modern diets and lifestyles. The researchers hatched the following idea: it must be all the omega 3 fats the Inuit eat that protect them and therefore if everyone eats more omega 3 fats they will also be protected.
Over the years researchers have tested this idea, and they’ve seen mixed results. But meanwhile, big business has been making huge profits by promoting the idea. Fish oil sales make tens of billions of dollars in profits every year.
But is taking fish oil healthy? And is more better? Let’s take a look at what science has to say.
What Science Has Found
As I stated already, the outcomes of research into the health effects of fish oil have been mixed. It was extremely difficult to draw conclusions from the studies. But as more studies have been done, a clearer picture has formed.
To start, in many cases it seems that fish oil supplementation has positive benefits. But when other factors are accounted for, it turns out that the benefits of fish oil have been overstated. The main finding has been this: the total ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats in the diet determines the health effects.
Omega 6 fats, as we’ve discussed in previous articles, are highly unstable fats found primarily in seeds and seed oils such as soy, corn, safflower, and canola oils. They are also found in very small amounts in traditional fats such as butter, but hundreds of times less than in seed oils. Prior to the last century men ate very little omega 6. Since the introduction of more omega 6 fats in the human diet rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s have been on the rise. And science is now showing that may not be a coincidence. It could be that omega 6 fats are increasing risk for those diseases.
Omega 3 fats are also unstable fats that are closely related to omega 6 fats. However, whereas omega 6 fats are mostly inflammatory, omega 3 fats are mostly anti-inflammatory. Omega 3 fats naturally occur in significant amounts in fish and in a few types of nuts. They also occur naturally in small amounts in butter.
Science is now showing that when the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats is high the risk of diseases increase. Increasing omega 3 in the diet can offset some of the negative effects of omega 6. For example, increasing omega 3 intake has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. But unfortunately, omega 3 is not entirely benign either. So by increasing omega 3 studies now show that some diseases may be more likely.
A recent study showed that men who ate several grams of fish oil per day over 4 years increased their risk of prostate cancer by more than 40 percent. And their risk of aggressive prostate cancer increased by more than 70 percent.
Other studies have shown that increasing fish oil intake can increase men’s risk of heart disease and a sudden fatal heart attack.
Suddenly, long term, high intake of fish oil isn’t looking so good.
Balancing Fat Intake
The takeaway from all of this is that the real culprit may be high intake of omega 6 fats. Increasing omega 3 intake is one way to balance the negative effects of high omega 6 fat intake. But it isn’t the ideal way because it also increases some risks.
A much better approach is to improve the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio by reducing your consumption of omega 6 fats. You can do that by cutting out industrial seed oils like soy, corn, safflower, and canola. Instead, eat more traditional fats like butter and coconut oil. These fats, as we’ve seen in previous articles, have many health benefits even though they have been wrongly demonized by the media over the past half century.
Does this mean that you should avoid all fish oil? Not necessarily. The problem is with long term high intake of isolated fish oil, which is unnatural. Think about that for a moment. The Inuit haven’t been eating fish oil capsules for millennia. They have been eating whole fish. And it turns out that makes a difference.
Balancing your omega 6 to omega 3 intake is still important, and for most men, after eliminating seed oils, eating some oily fish such as salmon once or twice a week is perfectly healthy. Whole fish is very different from capsules of rancid fish oil. Whole fish has been eaten by healthy people for thousands of years.
Also, there are some health conditions that require increasing fish oil intake. For example, a rare condition called Sjogren's syndrome can be successfully helped by a high intake of fish oil (5 grams per day). If you suffer from a condition that can be helped by fish oil, here are some suggestions that can help to reduce your risk of harmful effects.
- Use only high quality, unheated, refrigerated liquid fish oil (not encapsulated) as that will give you the least rancid oil possible. Many of the health problems associated with fish oil are due to rancid oils.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to provide antioxidants that will prevent oxidation in your body.
- Practice stress reduction and ensure that you get adequate sleep every night.
Do those things, and you will be safe.
In summary, don’t be duped by a multi billion dollar industry that wants nothing more than your money. While fish oil is perfectly healthy when eaten as part of a whole food (fish) in moderation, taking large amounts of processed, isolated fish oil capsules has a dark side. That includes increased risk of prostate cancer and heart disease.
A healthier solution is to reduce omega 6 fat intake and to eat moderate amounts of oily fish occasionally. Combine that with plenty of fruits and vegetables, sunshine, adequate sleep, and meaningful relationships, and you’ve got a recipe for health.