I don’t generally promote supplements. Most of them play to specific, isolated points of medical research to serve as a magic pill. But they’re often made of artificial ingredients that cannot be absorbed by the body, and thus have no benefit. Those that can be absorbed still don’t necessarily provide the stated benefit. One remarkable example of this is fish oil.
Globally, fish oil is promoted as a substance that prevents heart disease. This, like many other fitness and wellness myths, really does need to be reconsidered. This is especially true for fish and krill oil because harvesting them contributes to the overfishing that is depleting the world’s stock of fish and other marine species. It’s an unsustainable practice, and we ought to consider looking at it with the same skepticism as rhinoceros horns and tiger teeth.
The body cannot make omega 3 fatty acids, so it must be consumed in our food. We don’t need much of it, but it’s essential in a well-balanced diet. However, getting it from supplements shows no benefit, according to a systemic survey that tracked over 70 studies that monitored more than 100,000 people over the course of many years.
The survey found that only 8.8 percent of participants saw the purported benefits from taking omega 3 supplements, but that 9 percent had the same results by taking a placebo. There were no solidly convincing results demonstrating that using over the counter products are consistently effective. Although eating seafood, walnuts and other whole foods rich in omega 3 is itself a healthful practice, extracting the oil to concentrate it into a pill or capsule doesn’t provide the same benefits.
As per usual, extracting one component of a food to provide a large dose of it removes the substance from interacting with other chemicals that work together to make a food wholesome. We tend to find a connection between some groups of foods that offer similar benefits, single out what they have in common and then focus on that one molecule. But that is rather like isolating sound bites for headlines in the news: the broader context matters, and can ultimately change what is meant.
It seems inconceivable, but there are now estimates that fish populations will totally collapse by the year 2048. It’s mind-boggling. If current practices aren’t changed, the projected decline will reach 90 percent. According to a four-year international study of 7,800 marine species, the projected human population will be 9 billion people, and the demands on every aspect of marine ecology will be stressed to the point of mass extinction.
“Dr Boris Worm, of Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, the lead author, said: ‘This is what is projected, not predicted, to happen. I am confident we will not go there because we will do something about it. But if this trend continues in this predictable fashion, as it has for the last 50 years, the world’s currently fished seafoods will have reached what we define as collapse by 2048.’” — Charles Clover, The Telegraph
The idea that we should supplement with fish oil is morally irresponsible. Yes, a healthy diet includes omega 3 fatty acid; however, there are food sources of it that do not apply so much direct pressure to marine ecosystems. Consider these whole foods as alternatives:
In addition to omega 3 fat, these foods also tend to be good sources of numerous other healthful substances. They also tend to be good sources of protein, fiber and other fats and minerals. These plant-based foods are more sustainable, both in terms of production and environmental impact. They are less expensive than seafood and they require less energy to farm and process. Definitely get omega 3, but get it from wholesome, complete foods that significantly reduce the strain on the natural world.
Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.