So first we are told to eat more fish in order to gain the extraordinary health benefits of Omega 3, but then we are told not to eat too much because our fish are polluted with toxins, particularly methylmercury. What are we supposed to do with this advice? Perhaps we should look at how much Omega 3 we actually need.
How Much Omega 3 Fatty Acid Is Needed?
No official recommendation exists as to how much Omega 3 is required for optimum health but on an individual basis the ideal amount is linked to our intake of Omega 6. The more Omega 6 fatty acids that we consume, the more Omega 3 fatty acids we need to counteract the imbalance. First of all it might help to explain that the body is unable to synthesise Omega 3, or Omega 6 fatty acids for that matter, so we have to rely totally on our diets to get them. Now here's the astounding part.
Most of us today are eating diets that are deficient in the anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids but excessive in pro-inflammatory Omega 6. Over the past 70 years or so our consumption of fish has drastically diminished and at the same time we are eating more processed foods, grains and vegetable oils. These foods aren't bad in themselves it is just that this imbalance in our diets is believed by some to be the root cause of a huge rise in inflammatory conditions, heart disease and depressive disorders, hence the need for more Omega 3.
The important Omega 3 fatty acids are Eicosapentaenoic acid and Docosahexaenoic acid or EPA and DHA. Generally speaking, 1g of EPA/DHA daily is considered enough for everyone. To give you an idea of what this equates to in real terms, to get this amount of EPA/DHA from the diet, you would have to consume a 3-oz portion of salmon every single day, seven days a week.
Bearing in mind the toxicity problem, one might think it's safer to get Omega 3 from fish oil supplements, but here's the 'catch'. Fish oil is made from the very same fish in the sea, so it stands to reason that fish oil supplements can be toxic too unless of course the fish oil has been purified.
Best Types of Fish Oil
To put it simply, there are basically 3 types of fish oil available.
- Cod Liver Oil
- Standard fish oil
- High-grade concentrated fish oil
Cod liver oil is produced from the liver of fish and although contains high amounts of Omega 3, the liver is where most of the toxins are stored and so potentially, cod liver oil can contain a high level of pollutants. Cod liver oil also contains high amounts of vitamin A and D and too much can result in Vitamin A toxicity.
Standard fish oils are produced from the flesh of the fish as opposed to the liver of fish but again, they can contain impurities as whatever was in the fish at the time it was caught is transferred to the oil. The amount of Omega 3 fatty acids they contain can also vary depending on a number of factors including the time of year, environmental conditions etc.
High-grade concentrated fish oil has an advantage over the others in that not only has all the impurities been removed, the oil can be concentrated to contain much higher levels of Omega 3. For example, concentrations of 70% EPA is possible and so fewer capsules are required in order to produce the same effect. With some of the standard fish oils, 5 or 6 capsules are required every day. EPA is rapidly gaining recognition as the most important fatty acid as the body can produce DHA when enough EPA is present but this isn't effective the other way round.
To date there has been no real studies done on whether there is a significant difference or benefit in getting Omega 3 from fresh fish or from fish oil supplements. However, as it stands today, it would appear that the only way to ensure a healthy intake of Omega 3 without the risk of harmful pollutants is to take a high-grade fish oil supplement that has been through processes to filter out the impurities.
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