Letter: Fish oil benefits
In Dr. Feinsinger’s March 14 column “Ignore the fish oil salesman,” his bias against fish oil focuses on the debate over whether fish oil prevents heart disease and stroke. Because studies in the medical literature are mixed, he suggests that fish oil is useless. He reduces the issue to simple profit motives by the fish oil industry.
Unfortunately, Dr. Feinsinger’s conclusion fails to take into account the basic human health requirement for EPA and DHA, the fatty acids found in fish oil. These omega 3 fats are deemed “essential” to human health, meaning that they are “nutritional substances required for optimal health. These must be in the diet, because they are not formed within the body.” (Farlex Medical Dictionary).
According to the journal “Advances in Nutrition,” the role of EPA and DHA include promoting healthy fetal and retinal development, as well as providing over half the dry weight of the brain. EPA and DHA also help in modulating inflammation and are an important component of healthy cell membranes.
The suggestion that “a tablespoon a day of ground flax” will support brain health is not corroborated by the scientific literature. Studies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well researchers consistently find that plant-based omega 3s are not suitable substitutes for animal-based omega 3s, due to absent or insufficient conversion to EPA and DHA.
Plant-based omega 3s do not provide EPA and DHA, the most important type of omega 3s. The plant-based community consistently ignores this fact. As Dr. Feinsinger mentioned, there are algae-based EPA and DHA supplements, but they are much more expensive and less concentrated than fish oil. Even so, I encourage my strict vegetarian patients to take them.
Regarding contaminants in fish oil supplements: The New York Times recently reported on a large study of the 30 top-selling fish oils. While they varied in concentration, “the study found that all of the products tested contained only very low levels of mercury … The range is far below the upper safety limit.” (Jan. 22, 2014).
Contaminants can be an issue when eating fish, particularly in large fish. Fortunately, according to EPA data, smaller fish such as wild salmon can be consumed safely a few times per week.
I do not eat fish or take fish oil supplements to reduce heart attacks. Like the other healthy components of my diet, I include them because they provide the basic building blocks to create good health. (And it doesn’t hurt that Alaskan king salmon with butter and lemon is delicious.)
Scott Tesoro, chiropractor
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