Have you heard? Fish oil supplements are being recommended for everyone! Believe a lot of the hype, with my usual caveats!
Fish oil and whole, un-processed oils in general are just what the doctor ordered. Especially coming out of our 30 year fat fast” where Americans avoided as much fat as possible, it is good to hear that we can add some good, healthy fats into our diet. There’s been increasing media attention being paid to the use of omega-3 fish oils (The Today Show, January 31, 2007), and even primary care providers are recommending them for their patients.
Fish oils have been proven to lower our risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Why is fish oil important?
As with a variety of fats, our body requires a significant amount to survive. In many of my articles and in my book, I discuss the exchange of life”; the process by which water, oxygen and nutrients are brought into each of our 100 trillion cells and how carbon dioxide, wastes and toxins are moved out of the cells. This process must flow freely in order for our cells and our bodies to be healthy.
The cell membrane, made up of mostly fats, is at the center of this exchange process. These membranes are like its skin: a protective barrier that is selective about what it lets in and out; the softer and more supple it is, the more functional and more beautiful we are, inside and out!
Stress, toxicity, poor diet, poor rest/sleep and poor water intake can all cause the cell membranes in our bodies to be come rigid and prematurely aged. The more rigid and unhealthy our cell membranes, the more likely we are to suffer from symptoms like lethargy, aches/stiffness, headaches and more. Left uncorrected, symptoms can lead to more serious concerns of chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic pain and even chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes.
By improving our lifestyle and getting the proper amount of healthy fats into our diet, we can create soft, supple, healthy cell membranes. This is the path to truly regaining and maintaining our health.
All sounds pretty good so far, right? Well, actually it is. So what are my caveats?
1. While I most often recommend patients get the nutrients they need directly from their source (in this case by eating fish), I actually do not recommend patients eat fish 2-3 times per week. Because of the reports of fish contamination, especially with mercury, it is not a good idea to eat fish too often. A couple of servings per month is plenty.
2. Don’t just use fish oils. Current medical research indicates the VARIETY of fats in the diet is as important as what types and how much. There are many healthy, delicious oils out there for you. There’s the classic olive and sunflower oils, but what about the nut oils? Almond, walnut, sesame and peanut (actually a legume) oil are all excellent choices. These oils will improve the health and flexibility of your cells’ membranes all while highly satisfying your taste buds!
You can and should use a small to moderate amount of more saturated (thicker) oils like butter (organic when possible) and coconut oil. Again, the body needs a variety of fats. Too many of the same kind of fat can lead to imbalanced cellular membranes and can also degrade our health. Healthy oils are always sold in glass bottles or in the large metal cans, like olive oil. Oils sold in plastic are a no-no, as the packaging indicates that the oils are over-processed and not very healthy for you.
3. Avoid processed, trans or hydrogenated fats. These fats have been processed and altered in ways that make them unhealthy to the body. This includes margarine, processed butter substitutes, cheap vegetable oils (in plastic containers) and foods fried in hydrogenated oils (chips, snacks, restaurant fried foods).
4. Cook with fats and oils as little as possible. Heating fats can damage (denature) them, making them less or un-usable in the body. I suggest cooking with just enough to keep food from sticking to the pot/pan and then adding the oil to the food on your plate like a condiment. This is not a new concept, as it is done in many countries throughout the world.
So how much oil do I need in a day, doc?
Well, that is different for everyone. As part of my Bio-Logikal Diet, I am able to calculate how much fat a person needs in a day and we build it into their meal plan. Most people need 2-3 servings (teaspoons) of fresh, pure oil daily.
Choose your oil supplements with care. The toxicity that may be present in fish may spill over into supplements if the manufacturer isn’t taking the utmost care to purify them out, and without damaging the oil. Only use a fish oil product from a manufacturer that provides specific information on their purity specifications.
Fish oil can also present a problem with flavor. Manufacturers are using different natural flavorings to conceal the taste of fish that might repeat” or be burped”. Flavorings must be strong to conceal the fish flavor (lemon, orange, strawberry) and often patients burp up the flavor taste instead. Therefore, I strongly recommend using an enteric coated” fish oil product. This natural (extra) coating process allows the softgel to move through the stomach and into the small intestine where it opens and is absorbed. This minimizes or eliminates the repeating” and makes taking this kind of supplement much more rewarding. The enteric coating process is a bit expensive, so you will see EC products are a bit higher in cost, but worth it in my opinion.