Fish oil capsules loaded with these heart healthy “good fats” are flying off the shelves of healthfood stores and are prominently featured on supplement displays in many doctors’ offices.
You can even buy fish oil at Wal-Mart!
There is certainly little doubt that omega-3 fatty acids are important to health. According to Dr. Mercola, omega-3 fats are “significant structural components of the cell membranes of tissues throughout the body and are especially rich in the retina, brain, and sperm, in which docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) constitutes 36.4% of total fatty acids”.
WebMD concurs, stating that studies have shown that omega-3 fats can:
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce triglycerides
- Slow the development of plaque in the arteries
- Reduce the chance of abnormal heart rhythm
- Reduce the likelihood of heart attack and stroke
- Lessen the chance of sudden cardiac death in people with heart disease
While there is little dispute on either side of the medical aisle about the necessity of omega-3 fats in the diet for optimal health, consumers need to be aware that there are pitfalls associated with these good fats, particularly when consumed as part of a nutrient poor Standard American Diet (SAD).
First of all, it is not wise to consume the high heat processed, industrialized fish oils that take center stage on supplement shelves at the store and in doctors’ offices. High heat processing destroys the benefits of fish oils. Delicate omega-3 fats can never be subjected to heat of any kind and still be considered beneficial.
In fact, some would argue that taking industrialized fish oil does more harm than good as the good fats oxidized by processing become loaded with free radicals and when consumed regularly can contribute to aging and the development of chronic disease.
Even consumers who make the effort to source omega-3 fats rendered with no heat in the form of fermented fish liver oils as prized and revered by Traditional Societies such as the South Sea Islanders studied by Dr. Weston A. Price need to exercise caution.
The omega-3 fats EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) can actually contribute to health problems when not balanced by other important fatty acids in the diet.
The Journal of Nutrition Research reported in 2009 that intake of DHA and EPA was associated with an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke in rats. People on anticoagulant drugs need to be especially careful as EPA and DHA may cause the blood to thin and cause excess bleeding.
How does a savvy consumer obtain the numerous health benefits of omega-3 fats DHA and EPA with no downside risks?
The key is to balance intake of omega-3 fats in whole foods and traditionally rendered oils with the omega-6 fat arachidonic acid (ARA). Foods rich in ARA include meat fats, eggs, and liver – the very foods eschewed by most Americans as “unhealthy” even those who gladly gulp down a daily ration of industrialized fish oil capsules!
It is especially important for pregnant women who supplement with fish liver oils to consume meat fats, eggs (yolks), and liver.
The Weston A. Price Foundation reports that cod liver oil containing substantial levels of omega-3 EPA can actually contribute to hemorrhage during the birth process if not balanced by arachidonic acid (ARA), that equally important omega-6 fatty acid found in liver, egg yolks and meat fats.
For this reason, pregnant women taking cod liver oil to benefit themselves and their baby must be sure to follow an entirely Traditional Diet during pregnancy and nursing and not just take cod liver oil as part of a nutrient poor, ARA deficient conventional diet.
So bring on those heart healthy omega-3 fats, but let’s all consume them as part of a diet that also includes meat, liver and eggs as wisely demonstrated by chronic disease free Traditional Societies that exhibited vibrant health, easy fertility, straight/cavity free teeth and healthy children generation after generation.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist