April 21, 2009
So here's a question that I receive quite a bit, and which I answered in the last podcast (episode #40) but that I will also write about in this post…
“Which is better, fish oil or flax seed oil?”
First, it may be important to remind you why you would take either fish oil or flax seed oil in the first place. Basically, one hundred years ago, the process of removing oils from vegetables and seeds actually changed. It changed to something called “screw-nut expelling”, and while this allowed a more industrialized, mass extraction of the oils in corn, sunflower, safflower and peanuts, it also destroyed much of the valuable omega 3 fatty acid content, and concentrated the omega 6 fatty acid content.
And that's a bad thing, as I'll explain shortly.
In addition, farming practices have gradually evolved to give animals diets and mass-produced feed that is high in omega 6 fatty acids, but low in omega 3's. Even fish raised on fish farms is relatively low in omega 3's, since farm feed does not provide the omega 3 rich phytoplankton that wild fish can eat.
As if that weren't enough, food manufacturers have figured out that omega 3 fatty acids reduce shelf life of a food product, so many packaged and processed foods have had their omega 3's purposefully removed! And the process of fat hydrogenation for making convenient foods like margarine and cream cheese instantly destroys omega 3's! And any packaged food needs hydrogenated fats to actually last long enough to make it into your cupboard.
So why are these bad things?
1) In Japanese studies, a direct correlation has been observed between omega 3 fatty acid deficiencies, increased consumption of omega 6 fatty acids, and rise in Western degenerative diseases and illnesses (over 50 of them, in fact).
2) Omega 6 fatty acids promote inflammation in the body, which can result in cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis. Omega 3, on the other hand, is anti-inflammatory and supports healthy heart, brain, nerve and eye function.. Unfortunately, the current ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in the typical American diet is about 10:1 to 20:1. Go ahead and check out the nutrition label of most foods, and you'll find omega 6 rich sources like sunflower, safflower, peanut and corns oils.
3) For those of you not worried about chronic disease, consider that in just a 3 week period of time, omega 3 fatty acids have been observed to cause a 2lb increase in completely fat-free lean muscle, with no other dietary changes!
So now that you know about the elimination of omega 3 in most foods, I should tell you that the only exception is the very small amounts of omega 3's found in vegetables, seaweed and some nuts and seeds, and the highly concentrated omega 3 sources of cold water fish and flax seed oil.
Which brings us back to the question of fish oil vs. flax seed oil. Here are my thoughts:
-Although this haven't been observed in high quantities in concentrated fish oils, fish tissue can be very high in mercury, PCB's and other damaging environmental toxins, since many farmed fish are exposed to highly polluted waters, or feed on other polluted fish.
-Harvesting fish for omega 3 fatty acid oils may not be environmentally sound, since overfishing is depleting our limited stock of fish.
-The processing required to extract omega 3 from fish oils can result in oxidation of the fatty acids, decreased shelf life, and quick spoilage.
-Fish oil is 20-30% saturated fat, while flax seed oil is only 1-3% saturated fat.
-Flax seed oil is one of the world's most abundant sources of natural omega 3 fatty acids, and it is 100% vegan and vegetarian.
–Flax seed oil does not give you fishy tasting breath and fish burps.
Therefore, I personally utilize flax seed oil rather than fish oil. There is ample research to show that both would give you benefit, but in my opinion, the flax seed oil is simply safer.