Fish Oil Is the New Snake Oil

I've been duped by the supplement industry.  I was sitting in the dark at 7am on Thursday, listening to the latest science about cholesterol and triglycerides. I have a strong family history of high cholesterol, and I want to give good advice to my patients to help prevent heart disease and strokes, so this is of great interest to me. With all the changes in medical and dietary guidelines, it's difficult to sort out what we're supposed to be doing.  Do I eat eggs, or not?  If I'm supposed to be eating seafood several times a weeks, does it matter what kind? Do shrimp, which are high in cholesterol, count as a seafood in the cholesterol lowering category? Must I eat sardines and salmon every week? If my high cholesterol is genetic, does it matter what I eat, if I'm going to have to take medications to lower my cholesterol anyway?

Here's what I came away with.  The biggest bombshell was how many fish oil and omega-3 supplements are sold in this country, approximately $1.5 billion in sales annually. They are doing us no good, and may be causing harm. I've been taking MegaRed Krill capsules for the past year.  Why?  Because my mother was convinced it helped her lower her cholesterol. My mother is an incredibly active and vital person. I have her genes, so whatever she's doing should be good for me as well. Right? A totally emotional, non-scientific reason for doing something for my health. I did it anyway.  It costs $20-30 for 100 capsules, depending on where you purchase.  I bought several bottles, of course.  I was going to be healthier.

Maybe we should change the term 'snake oil salesman' to 'fish oil salesman'. There is no truth in advertising and definitely not on the packaging. My bottle of MegaRed Krill states that there are 350mg of omega-3 krill oil in each capsule.  But on the back label, it states only 90mg of it is 'total omega-3 fatty acids'. The 50mg of EPA and 24mg of DHA, which are the key ingredients in lowering triglycerides and beneficial for health, only add up to 74mg.  Is this New Math? So where are the the other 276mg?  They may be other saturated fats, that  could be raising your cholesterol and harming your health, not to mention your weight.  No calorie facts are listed on the label, but all fats have calories. Most fish oil supplements that do list calories on their labels range from 10-20 calories per capsule. And, research done by LabDoor, a testing company, showed that the six top selling supplement brands had levels of omegs-3s that were, on average, 30% less than what was stated on the label. 

The scientific studies on omega-3 preparations used 2000mg to 4000mg as the daily intake. In addition, while EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) lowered triglycerides and LDL(low density lipoprotein = bad cholesterol), DHA (docosahexonoic acid) increased the LDL in some studies. So maybe we don't need both versions. 

I'd have to take 54 MegaRed Krill capsules daily to make it worthwhile. That's 600 to 1000 calories as well. The prescription brands, like Lovaza and Vacepa, cost hundreds of dollars a month.  Instead, I could eat a 5oz serving of salmon for 3982mg of omega-3 fatty acids, only 280 calories with only 1.9gm of saturated fat.  I can roast it, grill it, poach it or make a salmon salad.  All delicious and good for me, and I'll know what I'm eating.

I also learned that wild caught fish probably have more omega-3 fatty acids than farm-raised, as the farmed fish are not fed their natural phytochemical rich diet needed for developing omega-3s. Smaller wild caught fish tend to have less mercury. 

I know what I am choosing.  I have great recipes for salmon, sardines, mackerel and other fish and I'm adding them to my weekly diet. This won't take the place of any prescribed treatments from my doctor, but if I'm going to make healthy choices in my lifestyle, I'll do it with food and not supplements.

Something I knew all along.