Not Another Fish Story

Written By Chiropractic Health and Wellness on February 15, 2010

Those of us with fishermen in the family know that most fish stories consist of a lot of exaggeration with a little bit of truth.  Fishermen have the unique ability to transform an average sunfish into a record-breaking walleye, and it never fails that an extraordinary circumstance prevents any witnesses from verifying. There is also a mix of truth and fiction surrounding another type of fish story; the story of fish oil's role in personal health. When used correctly fish oil can be a potent ally.

As the name implies, fish oil is fat.  However, despite the name, this is not the same fat associated with cardiovascular disease or poor fitting clothes. The fat contained in fish oil is unique in that it contains omega-3 fatty acids.  There are 3 different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA and ALA.  Fish oil contains EPA and DHA, while ALA is found in vegetarian sources like flaxseed oil.  The body can only use ALA if it converts it to EPA or DHA.  Most people will not get enough of  the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids through ALA consumption because the body can only convert 1-2% of it.

Many people have heard omega-3 fatty acids are important, but don't understand why.  The human body is a collection 70 to 90 trillion tiny cells that we recognize, in aggregate,  as a person.  A cell's health is dependent upon omega-3 fatty acids; they contribute to the cell membrane structure, fluidity and function.  Unfortunately, saturated fats consumed from animal foods replace the omega-3s on the cell membrane which decreases cell fluidity and function, contribute to superficial skin problems, inflammation and disease.

Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in preventive health and therapy due to their role in the human cell.  Omega-3s are used as an aid to prevent and treat:

 Coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke
 High blood pressure
 High blood lipids
 Bronchial asthma

 Alzheimer's, Dementia
 Autoimmune, rheumatic, inflammatory disorders
 Migraine Headaches
 Skin disorders

Historically, humans have eaten cold water marine fish to get sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA in their diets. They have also gotten omega-3 fatty acids from eating land animals that ate grasses or animals who ate those grass eaters. However, with the rising amount of water pollution today fish contain toxins like Mercury, PCBs, dioxin and arsenic.  The FDA now recommends no more than 2 meals per week contain fish.  Fish that are lower on the food chain are generally lower in toxins.  These include small fish such as herring, anchovies, and some medium sized fish like salmon, and some tuna.  Conversely, fish higher on the food chain like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish are more toxic. As for meat from land animals, you are better off with grass fed meats and game such as venison, elk, bison.

To supplement deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids the recommended intake of EPA and DHA varies:
1. As a daily supplement in healthy people who rarely eat fish, used to maintain a balanced intake of fats, supplement dosages are usually in the range of 0.5-1.0g/day.
2. People with chronic ailments may benefit from increased omega-3 supplementing 2-4g/day.
3. Acute therapy for serious illness or recovery from injury or major surgery requires a high-dose of fish oil supplements in the range of 3-30g/day.

There are a few contraindications or side effects that may arise with the use of fish oil.  High-doses of omega-3 use can deplete the body of vitamin E and may require additional vitamin E supplementation.  At high-doses omega-3 supplementation also acts as a blood thinner and blood clotting should be monitored.  Individuals with bleeding disorders or taking anticoagulant medication should consult a doctor before supplementing with omega-3.  In diabetics high-doses of omega-3 can sometimes reduce insulin action and elevate blood sugar; a doctor should be consulted prior to use.

While omega-3 supplementation is not an excuse for poor diet or lack of exercise, it can be a great tool in improving individual health.  If you are not currently supplementing your diet with fish oil, take this information and ask your doctor if you can benefit from our underwater friends.

Happy Fishing,
Todd Seidl
Chiropractic Intern