Thursday, September 17, 2009

If You Only Take One Thing, Make It Fish Oil

i'm often asked what supplements i think people should take. actually just yesterday patagonia hot shot ultrarunner rod bien just asked me that exact questions. so i figured i'd respond to the world... here is my response:
"the only supplement i suggest for every client i have is fish oils. most diet's ratio of omega 3 : omega 6 is completely out of whack.

but other than that sweeping generalization, it's impossible to say. i had my blood work looked at by my "witch dr." or, ah homeopathic genius. i'm on vitamin I, E and sometimes Zinc. but we're each different. it's worth having your blood work looked at i think. also get pharmaceutical grade supplements, studies don't favor the kind you can buy in the grocery stores unfortunately."
that's right, fish oils. the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 in our diets has changed drastically with the evolution of industrialized food. we're feeding our meat more grain and corn and less of their natural green diets. the result is that the meat we eat has a lower content of omega 3. the ratio should be 1:1, and is now more often 1:30! in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma michael pollan hypothesizes that this change in ratios caused by our industrialization of meat production might turn out to be the single biggest factor that effects our health as a population. consuming fish and more to the point fish oil supplements can help us balance that ratio. i'm partial to carlson's and i buy them from hammer nutrition.

the following is taken from a major cardiology news site (

New review endorses CV benefits of fish oil
August 3, 2009 | Lisa Nainggolan

New Orleans, LA - A new review concludes that there is extensive evidence from three decades of research that fish oils, or more specifically the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) contained in them, are beneficial for everyone [1].

This includes healthy people as well as those with heart disease—including post-MI patients and those with heart failure, atherosclerosis, or atrial fibrillation—say Dr Carl J Lavie (Ochsner Medical Center, New Orleans, LA) and colleagues in their paper published online August 3, 2009 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"We reviewed everything that was published on omega-3 that was clinically important, and the major finding is that there are a tremendous amount of data to support the benefits of omega-3, not just as a nutritional supplement—people have known that for years—but evidence that it prevents and treats many aspects of cardiovascular disease," Lavie told heartwire.

The omega-3 data may not be as impressive or as plentiful as [statin data] but it should be 'promoted' to clinicians.

Lavie said he believes physicians are not as familiar with the omega-3 studies as they should be: "Clinicians know the findings of many statin trials even if they do not know all the details—they know that there are a ton of statin data. The omega-3 data may not be as impressive or as plentiful as this, but it should be 'promoted' to clinicians."

Omega-3 PUFA, says Lavie, "is a therapy that clinicians should be considering prescribing to their patients. Not just as something healthy but as something that may actually prevent the next event. In HF, it may prevent death or hospitalization and the same thing post-MI." He and his colleagues reiterate the advice of the AHA: that those with known CHD or HF eat four or five oily-fish meals per week or take the equivalent in omega-3 supplements; healthy people should consume around two fatty-fish meals per week or the same in supplements.

Most data on EPA and DHA

In their review, Lavie and colleagues explain that most of the data on omega-3 have been obtained in trials using docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the long-chain fatty acids in this family. The most compelling evidence for cardiovascular benefits comes from four controlled trials of almost 40 000 participants randomized to receive EPA with or without DHA in studies of primary prevention, after MI, and most recently with HF, they note.

for more info see mark sisson's blog:
The Definitive Guide to Fish Oils
Rapid Fire Q&A: Fish Oil Guide Follow-Up


Thayne said...

Awesome article - I couldn't agree more! I'm glad to see that info becoming more public knowledge. Great blog Matt.

Bryon Powell said...

How does this jive with your feelings toward consuming minimally processed foods? Fish oil is extremely highly processed... to the point that I seem to remember that it can get away without being labeled as an allergen under US food labeling regulations.

Hart said...

powell in all the reading i've done i've never read that. i think it does fall under something i mention in the article - try to find the best source you can. pharmaceutical grade if you can find it.

Thomas said...

I have been using Flax Seed Oil as an alternative to fish oil. Same high dose of both Omega 3 & 6 without fishy burps and smell. Whole food caries several choices, I like Barlean's Flax Oil. Good as an anti-inflamatory too.

solarweasel said...

i'll admit that i merely scanned the linked articles... but other than long-term heart health, what benefits would one receive from taking fish oil? more specifically, how would an endurance athlete benefit?

i'm a college student, so my budget doesn't allow me to eat all the free-range, wholesome foods that i wish i could... but at the same time i've always been kind of opposed to supplements/medications of any kind.

Natala said...

Ooohh matt! i was just going to ask you this! Fish oil is the one thing I do take semi-regularly (I use the Pharmax one w/ essential oil of orange as it tastes yummy). great post!

redhotchilly12 said...

I really appreciate here too the health benefits of
fish oil
. More people like this kind of health supplement too. I really appreciate your ideas here. Thanks for sharing this ideas about fish oil.

AH said...

Interesting article. The whole question about the omega-3/omega-6 ratios has been well established in the scientific literature on fish oil benefits. There are two points I'd make about this. First, the omega-3-6-9 "balanced" supplements are a joke. You already get more than enough omega 6 and 9 from your diet. Second, the chemical flaxseed oil benefits are just not the same as DHA and EPA from fish oil. Moreover, flaxseed has phytoestrogens, which may be of interest to some of the men reading.