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Fish oil: What’s the deal?

November 26th, 2014


Fish oil  What's the deal

Even as children our elders were encouraging us to eat fish oil. In England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Northern Europe and Thailand, cod liver oil was in the past given to children to prevent flu, colds and learning disorders. There are many good stories about the “good for you” cod liver oil. Fishermen used to take it to prevent Rickets and other illnesses encountered while at sea.

Is there any truth or benefit in taking fish oil? As it turns out, fish oil, like the oil derived from cod fish, can provide the body with many health benefits.

Good sources of fish oil include cod, salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines and many other types of fish. Fish oil contains a type of polyunsaturated fat (fat that the body needs but cannot produce on its own) called Omega 3 fatty acids.

There are three main types of Omega 3 fatty acids that are important for metabolism — a-Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (ELA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA).

Today experts from around the world agree that including fish oils (that have the proper combination of Omega’s) as part of your regular diet can offer a host of health benefits.

Fish oil has been reported to regulates cholesterol levels, combats all forms of heart disease, protects against certain types of cancer, helps with brain development, reduces depression symptoms, protects the brain from Alzheimer’s, promotes rapid healing, increase immunity, reduced ADD symptoms in children, and much more…

Prior to the evolution of technology to maximise food production, our meat contained enough Omega 3s. Our cow’s diets consisted of plain untouched grass grown in Omega 3-rich soil (without pesticides) and farmers would allow some time for the cows to grow (years) before slaughter.

Today, most cattle and poultry are fed with grain instead of grass as this makes for “meatier” meat. In effect, the quality of our meat has changed. Our dependence on this type of meat, in addition to processed food has eliminated Omega 3 from our diets.

Similarly, farm-raised fish has been found to be high in Omega 6′s, a form of fatty acid that actually promotes inflammation and many of chronic conditions. Even when fish that are fed incorrectly, they cannot produce the same quality levels of Omega 3′s to counter inflammation and its unhealthy side effects.

Hence, you should be careful with fish oil products in the market, and make sure that it does not come from farm-fishes but should come from fishes in unpolluted part of the world. Heavy metals contaminated in fishes are also an important issue of fish oil production.


The benefit of Omega 3′s can be found in many different sources of ocean life. Omega rich sources of nutrition are also found in crustaceans (a type of crab) called krill and a type of green muscle and even algae.

More and more research is starting to show that krill oil may be more effective than fish oil in delivering health benefits. One factor to consider is that fish oil’s structure is linked together in triglyceride form whereas in krill, the Omega 3 structure is linked together in phospholipid form which is the same as the fat cells in the human body. This makes krill oil absorption faster, easier and it also contains a more concentrated form of Omega 3 fatty acids.

There’s yet one other source of Omega 3 fatty acids known as the green-lipped mussel. The green lipped mussel is a special species that is native to New Zealand.

A 2009 Australian study on a product from green-lipped mussel oil reported a significant decrease in inflammation in animals and in 2003 a study conducted in Korea concluded the product did help patients with arthritis, after just two months.

Often while sitting at dinner, I am marvelled by the many food that cross our table. However, of all food, fish seems to be the one reliable source for health and history in Asian culture. It all makes sense that fish and the nutrients derived from them are of most benefit.

The  ocean is a farm of replenishing nutrients that may be the last undiscovered frontier. It may turn out that our future is as tied to the ocean as our history and that fish may have been central to the success of our thriving species on this little blue ball in space we call home.

Last but not least, before you take these “oil” products, you should know exactly your purpose of taking them as well as specific properties of each different oil. You should also consult your doctor since these products can interfere with your medication.


Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.




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