You’ve probably heard a lot about omega-3 fatty acids recently. Today’s diet has thrown fatty acid intake out of whack, as people eat higher levels of omega-6 acids and lower levels of omega-3s. In fact, your body needs both types of essential fatty acids in balance. Because there’s such an imbalance in people’s EFA (essential fatty acid) ratio, most people just want to pop a pill, which is the usual approach, rather than work to correct the overall imbalance. In this case, that would be a fish oil pill, and they are extremely prevalent today. But let’s take a look at whether fish oil pills are all they are purported to be. Essential Fatty Acids While you need essential fatty acids to function, you must get them from your diet. Your body does not produce them. Omega-6 fats are important because they contribute to the immune response of inflammation, and the increase blood clotting and cell proliferation. Omega-3s, on the other hand, decrease inflammation, minimize clotting, and control cell proliferation. From a health perspective, both sets of functions are tremendously important, and a balance must be achieved between the two types of essential fats in order to maintain healthy function. Today’s Western diet is rich in Omega-6 fats, of which a large source is from polyunsaturated vegetable oils, which are not only used for cooking but are included in processed foods that range from frozen waffles to rice milk. Check labels- soybean, cottonseed, canola, safflower oil, etc. are all such oils, and their over-consumption creates an imbalance, because the standard diet is much lower in omega-3 fats than omega-6 fats. Omega-3s are present in certain plant sources, including walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds, as well as in oily fish. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the imbalance in today’s diet between the two types of essential fatty acids is the most likely explanation behind the rise in incidence of inflammatory diseases such as asthma and arthritis.

Omega-3 Supplementation

In order to correct this imbalance, many Americans have turned to omega-3 supplementation instead of changing their diet. Supplements are typically made from either fish oil or flax seed oil, and come in various forms including capsules, gels, and liquids.

The Problem with Fish Oil

If you’ve ever taken fish oil capsules, then you’re probably aware of the #1 complaint people have about them: they repeat on you. That’s right, fish oil capsules nearly always cause fish oil burps. If you don’t like fish (or maybe even if you do), that’s not a pleasant side effect. It’s um, horribly unattractive to put it politely. One of the reasons this happens is this: fish oil capsules are frequently rancid. According to Dr. Michael Eades, fish oil capsules contain highly unsaturated DHA and EPA. Unfortunately, the less saturated an oil is, the more unstable it is and the more quickly it degrades. In fact, it is one of the reasons fish goes bad so quickly. Just how many of the fish oil capsules on the market are rancid? You might be surprised (and a little disgusted). Researchers at New Zealand’s Crop and Food Research Institute tested capsules from an array of brands from countries all over the world and discovered that a majority of the capsules they tested had begun to oxidize. According to the researchers, not only will oxidized fish oils not benefit takers, but they may actually cause harm. Health risks associated with rancid fish oil include increased risk of atherosclerosis and thrombosis (in other words, hardening of the arteries and increased blood clotting.) Given that people take omega-3s for the opposite effect, this is a terrible finding!

Solutions

Dr. Eades suggests two solutions for avoiding rancid fish oils: biting and chewing the capsule to make sure it isn’t rancid (yuck!), and taking liquid fish oil (double yuck!) Unfortunately, the New Zealand research team suggests that this isn’t enough, nor is smelling for a fishy odor, because after an initial period of rancidity where the increase of fishy flavors and odors occurs, the oil continues to oxidize but the odors and flavors return to neutral. Some experts suggest eating more fatty fish, something I thought could be a decent solution for some for quite some time until I began to really look at mercury studies in seafood. Mercury is present in wild caught fish and shellfish, sometimes in alarming levels. Even in the fish that have lower levels of mercury, however, you are still ingesting small amounts of a highly toxic substance that can cause impaired neurological development, poor fetal development, neurological damage, cognitive impairment, attention and learning disorders, and many others. Because of these findings, I cannot recommend fish as a good source of omega-3 fats. Instead, I recommend eating a plant-based diet and including plant foods rich in natural omega-3 fats, including:

  • Acai
  • Chia seeds
  • Raw walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Leafy green vegetables

Minimizing processed foods and cooking oils (other than coconut oil), especially polyunsaturated vegetable oils which are high in omega-6s and are ubiquitous in processed foods (soybean oil, cottonseed oil, etc.). Margarine is definitely a huge no-no! Eating a whole-food, non-processed plant-based diet can help you lower your levels of omega-6 fats and increase levels of omega-3s, which will provide a better balance of the two types of essential fatty acids. Plant-based forms of omega 3 fatty acids convert to DHA and EPA in body. Some findings show that this conversion may be compromised in some people, so if supplementation is sought after the form I recommend is an algae-based DHA supplement. Where do the fish get their DHA? From the algae they eat! You can go right to the primary source by finding an algae DHA supplement rather than consuming potentially rancid fish oil. My Beauty Detox Solution diet is a great way to balance the two fatty acids, keeping you healthy and beautiful without the rancid fish burps.

New York Times Bestselling Author, Nutritionist, Wellness and Beauty Expert