Volume 6, Issue 2 | January 10, 2013
Why fish oils are better than plant oils
"Fish oils are great for you. They can prevent and treat many diseases." "Fish oils are dangerous. Avoid them at all costs." Are you getting confused yet? Most people are.

Last month, I went to a conference in which one of the speakers spoke against fish oils. I was there speaking in favor of them. Controversy is great, but sometimes it can be misleading. Just this past month, a very convincing study came out that pretty much proves that not only are fish oils not dangerous, they are necessary for your health.

The researchers took 74 healthy men and women and divided them into three groups. One group used a margarine that consisted of 10% ALA (alpha linolenic acid). ALA is the omega-3 fat found in plants and vegetables.  The second group used a margarine that consisted of 10% EPA. EPA is one of the principle components of fish oil. The third group used a margarine with 10% DHA. DHA is the other major component of fish oil.

The ALA group on average ate about 4.4 grams of ALA per day. The EPA group ate 2.2 grams of EPA per day. And the DHA group ate 2.3 grams of DHA per day. The study went on for six weeks. Here's what happened.

Those eating the margarine with EPA increased their EPA levels by 394%. Those in the DHA group increased their DHA levels by 91%. They also increased their EPA levels by 137%. This is because EPA converts to DHA. And when the body is getting plenty of DHA, it slows down that conversion. The result is more EPA. But what about the ALA group?

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The ALA showed no statistically significant increase at all in either EPA or DHA levels.

According to the researchers, "4 grams per day of ALA is not sufficient to increase the omega-3 index over a six-week period."

Those who argue that ALA is the best way to get omega-3 fats know that ALA is useful only when your body converts it to EPA and DHA. But they believe that this conversion happens very effectively. This study shows that they are wrong on that. But they also state that taking EPA and DHA are dangerous. They claim that since EPA and DHA are so prone to forming oxidants, they will increase the oxidant stress on cells beyond what they are capable of dealing with. The result would be cellular damage. But is that true?

The authors of this study looked at that question. They did find that the oxidative stress levels were higher in the EPA and DHA groups than the ALA group. But was this increase in oxidant stress enough to damage the cells?

Not at all. The authors stated, "We found no change in antioxidant capacity in any of the groups." In addition, they also checked the oxidative stress in the actual cells. They found no increase. And they also checked the amount of hydroperoxides in the cells. Hydroperoxides are formed when the cells are in a state of oxidant stress. Again in the words of the authors, "All three interventions decreased erythrocyte linoleic acid hydroperoxides."

In short, although raising EPA and DHA levels will result in higher levels of oxidants, the levels are not enough to be a problem. I believe that this study should put to sleep any controversy that fish oils are dangerous. It also questions the wisdom of assuming that the ALA found in plants is sufficiently converted to EPA and DHA. Fish oil is still your best bet for the remarkable health effects of EPA and DHA. If you're not taking fish oil, now is a good time to start. Make sure you take a high-quality product that's guaranteed pure, such as Complete Daily Oils.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REF: Egert, S., M. Lindenmeier, K. Harnack, et al. "Margarines Fortified with α-Linolenic Acid, Eicosapentaenoic Acid, or Docosahexaenoic Acid Alter the Fatty Acid Composition of Erythrocytes but Do Not Affect the Antioxidant Status of Healthy Adults."  Nutr. 2012 Sep;142(9):1638-44. Epub 2012 Jul 18.

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