Fish Oil is so 2010

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I stopped buying fish oil in 2010. I was already becoming highly skeptical that it was the miracle supplement it was supposed to be. Whenever I’d hear claims that we need it to fight inflammation, I’d think about what was causing the inflammation and shouldn’t we be minimizing it, rather than fighting it?

A lot of the early logic behind supplementing with fish oil, which is rich in Omega 3 was to improve our Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. The higher the ratio, the worse your health outcome. There are two ways to lower that ratio. Either work at reducing Omega 6 or increase Omega 3. There is no profit motive motive in the first suggestion and plenty in the second. An industry was born and fish oil was their product.

fish oil

Fish oil by Jo Christian Oterhals

There were a few problems though. Simply increasing Omega 3 doesn’t address the excess Omega 6, which is likely the true problem. In other words, this is a numerator problem not a denominator one.

The second issue we all learned is that fish oil can go rancid sitting on the shelf because they are chemically fragile. The solution we are told is to only buy the best brands. But we really have no way of knowing if even the best brands are fine or if they have been sitting in the back of a hot truck for weeks.

I’ve seen supplements come into and out of fashion and it appears the popularity of fish oil has already peaked and is likely in descent. I have no need for it. I wouldn’t take it if it were free. A few times a year I’ll have salmon, but I suspect the real health benefits are from greatly reducing Omega 6 consumption not from dosing on Omega 3. Now I see some people pimping Krill Oil as a new and improved fish oil. Here we go again. Not me.

18 thoughts on “Fish Oil is so 2010

  1. What about the numerous reports of fish oil helping people with issues in the joints? Or what about the Astaxanthin in Krill oil and all the so called benefits from getting more of that stuff?

    Is there no efficacy to these things?

  2. @Trevor – I don’t know. My question is why is there so much inflammation in the joints to begin with? Excessive Omega 6, lack of gelatin or something else? What is the root problem? But if it makes the pain go away, go for it.

    I’m skeptical and when it comes to supplementing. I must believe that it can not only produce a measurable cost effective benefit, but that it isn’t doing any harm. Fish oil doesn’t pass that test with me. I do take supplemental gelatin and make bone broths on a regular basis, both of which have helped me.

  3. Brian

    MAS, have you ever read Chris Kresser? He’s one of the more balanced researchers on this topic. Here’s a link: http://chriskresser.com/essentialfattyacids

    I haven’t read all of the articles yet myself.

    Btw, did the new version of Google Chrome change your site font at all? It looks different to me. I know you were messing with it a while back.

    Brian

  4. @Brian – Yes, I read Kresser. Have for years. To me the only balanced position to have on a supplement when so many educated people deem it harmful is to not take it. Spending time and extra money sourcing the best version of what may ultimately be bad for us to me is wasted effort. Just eat fish occasionally and trust that Mother Nature is wiser than some supplement company.

    The font does look better in Chrome. I thought I was imagining it. Thanks!

  5. Glenn Whitney

    A brilliant post!
    A few additional points:
    – It only takes an hour or two in hot summertime ambient temperatures for fish oil to go rancid
    – Many of the expert commentators sell fish oil either directly or indirectly, e.g. MSisson, BGreenfield and CKresser
    – As far as I can tell, pastured organic egg yolks are a great source of Omega 3 (and it comes in a handy keep-fresh package, a.k.a. an “egg shell”

  6. So I agree finding the cause of inflammation is critical. But eating fish, vs fish oil, vs bone broth vs supplemental gelatin all seem to fall into the same category in my mind. Many different ways to skin a cat, find the one that works the best for you.

    I know several people, some with bone on bone conditions in their knees, some with serious arthritis, and others with random cartilage issues that also limit their Omega 6 exposure that swear by high quality Fish Oil. They go from chronic achey knee pain to barely even noticing the pain when they take the fish oil.

    In the end, find what works for you.

  7. Txomin

    Take a look at “There is no profit motive motive in the first…”

    Fish supplementation was indeed fashionable and this meant (as always) a great deal of bizarre propositions. Good on you for seeing through the fluff.

    However, fish itself remains an important, some would argue crucial, contribution to any balanced diet. There is no reason to believe that the oil of fish fails to retain at least some of the qualities of the fish. And, btw, supplementation with certain types of oils, fish and otherwise (see castor oil for one example), are integral to traditional and ancestral diets.

    I would argue that while the advertising became delusional, the source material itself is still worth consideration.

  8. @All – In the end, when I see a bottle of fish oil at the supplement store, I feel like someone is trying to punk me. I don’t get that feeling when I buy copper, selenium or magnesium. Since I stopped taking fish oil, my health has not changed for the worse.

    @Txomin – I can totally respect traditional preparations of fish oil. I was speaking specifically of the the supplements we see on the shelf.

  9. Frank

    Very timely – just got nauseous from a some canned herring … even when it’s canned it doesn’t mean the batch was frozen properly.
    Unstable fatty acids simply are risky components, wherever they’re found in food.

  10. Kelly

    Hi Michael,

    You might consider reading what Kurt Harris M.D. has to say about Ray Peat, a really nice and intelligent man, but one who also recommends we eat unnatural foods like skim milk and potato water, and swallows thyroid meds and aspirin like after-dinner mints.

    Why doesn’t he do like you say, and fix the problem or problems that may be causing his low thyroid, or his inflammation? His logic is just completely confounding, and as Harris says, “No one I respect as knowledgeable has a high opinion of Peat. No one. In fact, if you find someone with a good grounding in biology (…) who really finds him consistently credible, I’d like to know about it. Better yet, find me ONE medical endocrinologist or PhD mammalian endocrinologist.”

    As for if omega 3 can displace omega six, you might find this series of videos with Dr. William Lands interesting:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kivrYNjiXk8

  11. @Kelly – The fact Harris doesn’t like Peat is not relevant to this post. I myself am not defending Peat. Fish oil has many critics, some of which disagree with Peat on many topics.

    This post is about doubt and supplementation. I will not take a supplement where I have doubt that it is helpful or might even be harmful. There are numerous voices from different camps that question if fish oil is healthy. And more critics seem to pop up every year.

    And if in the future we learn more about fish oil and the consensus says it is not only safe but measurably effective, then I can reconsider at that point. Until then, I’m not wasting any money on fish oil.

  12. Kelly

    Sorry MAS, my bad. I was reading your ‘Supplements 2013’ post right before this, and meant to post on that page, where Danny Roddy mentions Peat several times.

    I agree overall that supplementation should be kept to a minimum as much as possible, but personally have found that fish oil has helped me to completely get off of blood pressure meds, along w/magnesium. BP dropped from 177/90’s to 122/70’s in six weeks. W/just three pills a day.

  13. @Kelly – I did some reading and found that fish oil does a good job of lowering BP, so congrats for finding something that works. My opinions of fish oil are as a supplement for good health, not as medicine to fix an existing problem.

  14. David

    Many many thanks, Michael Allen.
    We must be vigilant to fish oil which is rich in Omega 3 was to improve our Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. The higher the ratio, the worse our health outcome. We have lost our health if we can not increase our health consciousness & prevent the nutritional diseases.
    Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  15. Javier

    I don’t understand if people are against polyunsaturated oils why is fermented cod liver oil ok?

    Polyunsaturated oils are VERY unstable, oxidizing quickly when exposed to oxygen, light and heat—even just sitting in a bottle, but also when they go into our bodies—and turning rancid. (including omegas) Also Fermented foods require a glucose source to create (metabolize) a by-product e.g. lactic acid that prevents the food from decomposing. The result is a pleasant sour taste that one would find with sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, etc. Cod liver oil has no glucose and cod livers have very little glucose (mostly protein, fat, water and some minerals). The livers and the oil simply go from fresh to rancid in a short period of time. If left to continue decomposing the oil will become putrid leaving a foul smell and taste.

    Furthermore, Cod, like Shark, are long-lived fish. As they go about living for years and years, and during that time, they accumulate environmental toxins.
    And the toxins are most concentrated in the livers. So when you drink Cod liver oil, you should expect environmental toxins! That just makes sense!

    Sadly, atlantic Cod is an over-fished and threatened species.

    Why not just eat more fish and liver and gain similar yet better benefits since it’s a food source?

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