When Omega-3 Fats Can Be Dangerous to Your Health

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist April 29, 2013

fish oilOmega-3 fats are currently the darling of conventional and alternative medicine alike.

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 reason?

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

Sources:

Five Healthy Fats You Must Have in Your Kitchen

Dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids increase oxidative stress in rats with intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke

Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements for High Blood Pressure

Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Health and Disease

WebMD Omega-3 Fatty Acid Fact Sheet

Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers

Picture Credit

 

Comments (62)

  1. This is so timely! I’d actually just begun taking fish oil pills a few days ago (having run out of cod liver oil…) and I wondered about high temperature processing, but couldn’t find any information online about it. Well, I guess I won’t be having any more of those…

    It’s difficult sometimes, because I am a sixteen year old trying to eat a traditional diet with parents who are very non-traditional and who are accustomed to buying the cheapest possible alternative to any real food product (however, I’ve finally gotten them to eat real butter and whole dairy again!). Which means having to mail-order my own cod liver oil, and that I can only afford sporadically.

    Though my skin does seem to be much clearer when I take even the inexpensive commercial fish oils….

    Reply
    • Good for you Rowan! It’s great to hear that you are a role model for your parents and eating healthy at sixteen. :-)

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    • Congrats! When most of the kids today eat either the SAD diet or a vegetarian/vegan diet , you are an example of courage and determination.

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      • Rowan- I just want to say, good for you!! It is hard enough as it is when your whole family is in on it, but trying to eat that way in your position is very tough! Keep it up..I think it’s great! :-D

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  2. Thank you, thank you Sarah for dissecting this topic. I get into a debate often with people about the importance of taking the fermented fish oil as opposed to the health food store, clear, heated variety. I will be forwarding this article on to many, many people.

    Again thanks for taking the time to research topics that many of us don’t.
    Libby\’s last post: Soak Your Nuts and Lose the Gas

    Reply
  3. Interesting… I eat a very WAPF diet. We grow our own grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, and raw milk. However, I still hemorraged badly with my last two babies, one born at home, and one in a midwife clinic. My deliveries were very natural. I wonder if the FCLO was the culprit, since I had been taking a full tablespoon per day of Cinnamon tingle. My babies have been nice and big and healthy, though.

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    • I would really like to know why she hemorraged when she is following the WAPF guidelines. I have a daughter and dil who are pregnant and nursing and my dil had hemorraghing at one of her births. Just curious! Best wishes to you Amys.

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      • My midwife had me stop taking my FCLO toward the end of my pregnancy. If I recall correctly it had something to do with hormone interference at birth that she had read in a study. I did follow the advice and we had a great natural birth at home. Maybe this is something you could look into.

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    • Taking CLO does thin the blood. I thought that was just a known fact?? I quit two weeks before my surgery. Then took it back up a couple days after.

      Reply
  4. Thanks for the information! My partner and I have been consuming Sardines ( from a tin) as a main source of protein and of course Omega-3 fats. Are the Omegas being destroyed by the heating /sterilization temperatures in the canning process? What about cooking a piece of Salmon ..etc. prior to eating…same idea?
    Help!

    Reply
  5. Alicia Cousineau-Ingram via Facebook April 29, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    They cause bleeding in my eyes. Can’t take it. Mom, brother and grandpa had issues as well.

    Reply
  6. Lorri Salcido Navarette via Facebook April 29, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Great article. I’m wondering what you think about a diet based on blood type. The book Eat Right For Tour Type says blood type A’s should be vegetarians. Do you have more info on this?

    Reply
    • Hi Lorri, I don’t know for sure about this book but the Weston Price website has thumb’s up and thumb’s down reviews on books. I would venture to guess that this one is included. Wouldn’t hurt to look!

      Reply
    • The Weston Price Foundation gives the Eat Right For Your Type book a Thumbs Down review:
      http://www.westonaprice.org/thumbs-down-reviews/eat-right-4-your-type

      In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig wrote that this blood type dietary fad is “based on theories of human evolution that are impossible to prove and on research that is difficult to validate. Diet systems that emphasize high quality ancestral foods and proper preparation techniques have better chances for long-term success than those that assign the earth’s entire population to one of four food lists, particularly when those lists include questionable foods like soy and exclude nourishing fats like coconut oil.”

      Speaking from personal experience, I’m the type that Dr D’Adamo says should be vegetarian, but the years I was vegetarian were the one when I experienced the worst health and the only time in my life when I felt depressed. I do much better eating meat, properly raised, of course.

      Reply
  7. Hazel Milburn Ito via Facebook April 29, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    And if you can’t eat eggs due to allergies, and are concerned the meat and liver intake is not giving you enough omega-6, Borage oil is another source. My daughter takes borage oil daily.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing this. My breastfeeding baby and I are on GAPS right now (so lots of meat and liver) but he’s allergic to eggs (so I can’t eat eggs either). I’ll have to look into borage oil.

      Reply
  8. Cynthia Hachey Hamilton via Facebook April 29, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    OR you can go to your local health food store and get Udo’s Choice oil in a special refrigerated section. It’s cold pressed, and must be kept refrigerated. It has the right balance of Omega 3s, 6s and 9s for optimal health.

    Reply
  9. I don’t recommend Udo’s because Udo’s has too many omega 6 fats in it which people are already getting far too much of in their diet. I used to take Udo’s about 15 years ago and it made my symptoms much worse. Also, there is no source of actual EPA/DHA in Udos (last time I checked anyway) … just omega 3′s in the form of ALA which much be converted by the body which is highly inefficient for many people. Fermented cod liver oil is the omega 3 oil supplement that is best as EPA and DHA are there in readily usable form.

    Reply
    • What is the difference between omega-6 and arachidonic acid (ARA)? I’m confused. If Americans are getting too many Omega 6 from the standard American diet then why does the article state that the key is to eat more ARA rich food? Is omega 6 the same as ARA?

      Reply
  10. Just another example of how we should get our nutrients by eating whole foods instead of trying to get them in capsule form all the time. It really does come down to a balanced diet.

    Reply
  11. Cyndi Thomas via Facebook April 29, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    what about Krill oil,… i just bought some. my usual is super omega3 from Sangsters Health Store. Just decided to try Krill

    Reply
  12. Catherine Camiolo via Facebook April 30, 2013 at 12:42 am

    We do cinnamon infused fermented cod liver oil in the mornings with a shot of raw milk after. Wakes us up and makes us strong and healthy!

    Reply
  13. Rachel Kinkade via Facebook April 30, 2013 at 1:28 am

    How about raw cod liver oil? I just ordered some after reading about people having trouble with fermented cod liver oil upsetting their stomachs. Anybody else have experience with it?

    Reply
  14. Juliana Sutton via Facebook April 30, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Dr. D’Adamo has done some great research. However, some of the methods and foods he used for his research weren’t exactly “Kosher”. For example, he would take some foods and mix them with the different blood types in petri dishes to determined wether the foods were good/harmful. I find this method flawed, because food goes through a number of steps/processes before it/the nutrition from it enters the bloodstream. He also used primarily conventional meats/produce/dairy for his research. What’s to determine that the negative reactions some blood types were having wasn’t related to poor quality/added hormones/pasteurization/pesticides present in the foods, and not actually the foods themselves? There is a huge difference between raw milk form pastured A2 cows, and conventional milk from a type A1 cow raised on hormones, antibiotics, and GMO grain/crappy candy, whom may never see the light of day. – So thats my take! ;)

    Reply
  15. We usually eat canned salmon as an affordable source of wild omega-3 rich fish. However, I believe canned food is heated in the canning process. Is that correct? Does this mean we shouldn’t eat canned fish?

    Reply
  16. Great article. I just started taking FCLO for my pregnancy and knew there were issues about digestion/assimilation. This article clears it up for me!

    Reply
  17. i just read eat fat lose fat by sally fallon and thats a great book on fermented codliver and coconut oil helps with all types of issues skin conditions and stomach issues. i’ve takn coconut oil and it helps you go to the bathroom, and codliver they say to take it before breakfast i still ahvent done that becasue the fish taste in th morning is a little too much for me. but i will do it someday for now im really liking coconut oil it helps me… my goal 2 to 3 times a day.

    Reply
  18. What is the story about taking FCLO and Skate oil together? Is that a good way to go to get the right amount of what is needed?

    Reply
  19. Kathy Batalden Smith via Facebook April 30, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Does taking high vitamin butter oil along with FCLO alleviate the danger for hemmoraging during pregnancy? I also eat a lot of eggs and meat (I don’t currently have liver in my diet), but concerned about too much FCLO while pregnant.

    Reply
  20. Does high vitamin butter oil have the ARA fats needed to balance the FCLO and eliminate possible hemorrhaging during pregnancy/birth? I’m 7 weeks pregnant and eat meat and eggs (though no liver). I also take FCLO and high vitamin butter oil daily. But the possibility of hemorrhaging is scaring me.

    Reply
    • I have the same question as Kathy and Kathleen. Does anyone know the answer? I’ve been taking taking FCLO with high vitamin butter oil faithfully throughout my pregnancy. I have lots of meat and eggs in my diet, but almost no liver. I’m scared of hemorrhaging as I have only 6 wks to my due date.

      Reply
  21. Sarah, what does this mean for Vital Choice’s Salmon Oil? It says it is “extracted at temperatures below 225 degrees F” and “cold-filtered”. Vital Choice is a great company, but I’m unsure about this. We’ve been taking the salmon oil/vitamin d supplement for a few months.

    Reply
  22. Tony Pantalleresco (“The Remedy” program on The Micro Effect) says to avoid fish oil because the mercury simply can’t be filtered out. I take an algae-baed Omega-3 called Ovega. Tony also recommends walnut oil and grass-fed butter as good sources of Omega-3. Thanks for the informative article!

    Reply
  23. this is interesting. I have been studying traditional diets recently, and have been taking fermented cod liver oil/ high vitamin butter oil gel. I do eat eggs, and drink raw milk, and bone broth, but I am vegetarian otherwise (i was raised that way). All that i have read so far indicates that a teaspoon of fermented cod liver oil should be a sufficient supplement to a a diet including pastured animal products, even for a nursing mother. Is this teaspoon a small enough amount not to throw things off? and if not, what ratios of animal products to fish oil do you recommend? do they need to be eaten together? thank you for the article

    Reply
  24. The GAPS diet recommends taking a fish oil supplement along with CLO, so this article confuses me…are there any safe brands out there? I have been taking ‘Eye-q’ capsules

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  25. Great article. Would like to mention only high levels of mercury found in big fish is dangerous, but not in small fish like Mackerel, mullet, Salmon etc. Also its important to source it from healthy places around the world. So do your research carefully when selecting omega 3 where its sourced from.

    Reply
  26. Kathleen White May 6, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Does High heat mean the same as moleculary distilled? And are borage and primrose oils considered to be good omega 6 oils to combine with cod liver oil? I’m definitely going to start making my own raw butter after seeing how easy it is.

    thanks!

    Reply
  27. I have gut issues as well as no gallbladder and wonder if you can advise me of how I can consume these healthy oils without distressing my digestive system.

    Reply
  28. I’m wondering if anyone can shed some light on my situation. I began taking FCLO over a year ago and so I was very excited that when I became pregnant again that I could continue taking it with all of the wonderful benefits. However, on an off during my pregnancy I spotted. Then beginning around 26 wks I began to have more than spotting, within several weeks I had a good amount of blood every now and then. I am planning a homebirth and my midwife suggested we go ahead and have an ultrasound done to rule out any placenta issues. Thankfully, everything looked great and all is normal and I feel fine and baby seems to be doing great. My family follows a Weston A. Price diet and I have been trying to consume all of the food stated for pregnant women. However, I’m wondering if the FCLO has contributed to my spotting and bleeding. At this point, I’m a little scared to take it and I definitely don’t want to hemmorage at home during birth. Any thoughts?

    Reply
  29. Jenya Rafi via Facebook April 5, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    I have new chapter wholemega salmon oil, from my research it’s not heated when processed and the brand is sustainable. Does anyone have more information to share abt new chapters fish oil?

    Reply
  30. Jamie Cuddy Durfee via Facebook April 5, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    needed a refill but screw it waste of money and I eat eggs every day and a healthy dose of meat often. Thanks

    Reply
  31. Peter Chisholm via Facebook April 6, 2014 at 8:57 am

    I can’t eat oily fish they repeat on me for days afterwards and make me feel ill, for years ive taken Omega-3 capsules.

    Reply
  32. Rachelle Yecoshenko Zeiders via Facebook April 6, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Kathryn Hoogestraat-yecoshenko this is probably why you hurt when you take fish oil

    Reply
  33. Pauli Tyrrell via Facebook April 6, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Yes, it is ultra imprtant to note that if the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in the diet is too great one invites adverse heath errects rather than reducing or preventing them. I prefer to use whole food sources rather than supplements.

    Reply

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