What’s the deal with fish oil?

Hey Folks!  I miss you all.  Sorry I haven’t been keeping in touch, HOWEVER, you’ll be happy to know that Rachael (many of you will know who I’m talking about, some may not, that’s ok… for now), and I have been working on a bit of a “program” or informational source, or answer… to all your questions about how to best help you achieve health via food, exercise and chiro (of course).  So while I should have been working on the info for this program a lot more, it has still managed to make a good excuse not to write blog posts.  Sorry for that.  I have about an hour before I start work at Crossfit Mississauga (come in for a workout & some chiro!), so I’m hoping to answer many common questions about fish oil today.

“WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH “OMEGA” OILS?”

Ok.  There are omega 3 (n3) and omega 6 (n6) fatty acids (there are also omega 9, but we’ll pretend I didn’t just write that for the remainder of this post as they just aren’t very sexy).  They are BOTH essential fats and we need them both.  These fats are polyunsaturated (meaning there are “kinks” in the molecule, while saturated fats have no kinks [extra sidebar:  I guess in this way you could say that saturated fat is not very “kinky”… ha…ha…ha…], and monounsaturated fats have one kink) which means they have slightly different properties than saturated fats.  For one, they’re liquid at room temperature.  This is a somewhat interesting part of them which some folks will say means they add more fluidity to the cell membrane.  Whether or not this is true is moot.  You can *test* how unsaturated your fish oil is by putting it in the freezer.  If it solidifies… well your “fish oil” is most likely mostly olive oil.  Ooops!

“AND?”

The standard north American diet is greatly skewed in the direction of n6 oils.  Generally the ratio considered “healthy” is 1.5:1 (n6:n3).  The typical diet around here with its’ processed foods chocked full of soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, and other silly oils (as well as the silly oil make up in conventional meats – think about what they’re being fed!) puts us at an unhappy 10-25:1 ratio of n6 to n3 fats.

“SO WHY IS THAT BAD?”

It’s bad because n6 fats are the precursors to many inflammatory cytokines that help us to propagate our inflammatory lifestyles.  Omega 3 fats also lead to cytokines, but they are a bit more appropriate.  We want that nice 1.5:1 ratio because it is the best indication that your body has the necessary ingredients to make you healthy.  Imagine in the other situation (the bad one) you are making some mashed potatoes and you need butter, but your friend keeps handing you container after container of margarine (ew).  At some point you’re just going to give up looking for the butter and use the dumb margarine.

“SO WHAT ABOUT FISH OIL?”

Fish oil is (was) the new panacea of the year (fish oil is SO 2001, pfff).  We live in a constant unhappy ratio with way too much n6 fats helping us to make way too much inflammation.  The logical next step is, “so let’s fix the ratio!  Everyone shotgun some fish oil!”, which isn’t a great approach, but it’s definitely better than doing nothing.

“KIRKLAND BRAND IS CHEAP!!!  WHY SHOULD I USE THE STUFF YOU SELL?”

The more expensive fish oils contain more EPA and DHA (the longest and most beneficially healthy oils) per gram of “omega 3”.  This is a good thing.  A lot of the other “omega 3” oil in the cheaper supplements is oleic acid – a short chain n3 fat that is the main fat in olive oil (it’s also abundant in many other places – grass-fed beef, for one).  Unless you want to take 15-25 Costco brand fish oils every day, buy the more expensive stuff and just take less.  Onward!

“OK.  I HEAR SOME FOLKS SAYING FISH OIL IS BAD THOUGH!”

This is where stuff gets complicated.  The less good part of just crushing fish oil to “fix” your ratio is that you’re still crushing n6 oils.  This means you’re consuming a lot of polyunsaturated fatty acids all together.  While our body likes some polyunsaturated fatty acids, more isn’t better.  These long, kinked fatty acids are very reactive with many things in our body (the intense heat, oxidative substances, etc.)  and oxidized fatty acids are not our favourite.  You know how if you leave the olive oil bottle open and out in the sun on a summer day?  That nasty smell (rancid oil) is what happens in your body (it’s kinda hot in there).

“WHAT ABOUT KRILL OIL?!?! IT HAS CAROTENOIDS!”

I’m sure it does.  Krill is generally at the bottom of the food chain in the ocean and a lot of other species rely on it.  Let’s not overwhelm those poor tiny little shrimps and mess with things too bad.  Also, you can’t punch a krill in the face – most fish are punch-sized.

“BUT I’M VEGAN AND EATING (and punching) ANIMALS IS WRONG!!!”

If you can’t not be a vegan, then acquire some omega 3 oil from algal sources.  It’s out there and it isn’t too expensive, and algae doesn’t have a cute face or complain when you kill it.

“NO IT’S OK I’VE GOT IT UNDER CONTROL – I EAT A CUP OF FLAX WITH EVERY MEAL!  HAHA!”

Good lord, I don’t want to know what your bowel movements are like.  Stop eating so much flax and get the algae version of your n3 supplement.  Flax is abundant in n3 fats – but they’re the short chain n3 fats that don’t have a great conversion to the longer chain n3 fats… And flax isn’t very tasty.

“NOW WHAT?”

Go out and get yourself a quality fish oil supplement.  Take somewhere between a gram and a half and 3 grams a day of EPA + DHA (not just n3).  Eat happy, grass-fed versions of all your favourite animals.  Most importantly, avoid n6 vegetable oils like it’s your job.  They aren’t very tasty (taste test a spoon of corn oil versus a spoon of coconut oil, or butter, or ghee, or bacon fat, or tallow – you get the point).  You’re omega 3 situation will be much better with this set up.  There are blood tests you can get to see where you’re at, but I prefer to just judge it by how you look feel and perform.  If you’ve been crushing fish oil for a long time at high doses and you’re noticing you bruise really easy, dial it back a bit.

 

 

I think that just about covers it!  Let me know if I missed anything or if you have any other questions!

 

Cheers!

 

Dr. Adam Ball