fish oil capsules and benefits of omega-3 fatty acids

This or That: Fish vs. Fish Oil for Healthy Hearts

Omega-3s are good for your heart, but how you get them may not be so good for the oceans.

This or That: Fish vs. Fish Oil for Healthy Hearts

Would he be better off taking pills?

The next time you go for a checkup, it's unlikely that your doctor will write you a prescription for twice-weekly doses of trout and salmon. And that means he's ignoring a cheap, easy way to improve your heart health, says Carl Lavie, MD, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and preventive cardiology at the Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans. Dr. Lavie recently published a review of studies on the heart benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fish and easily available in the form of fish oil supplements. The research consistently shows, he found, that omega-3s reduce heart failure, cut down on artery disease, and reduce the risk of death from major cardiac events. "Many people have recognized that omega-3 is a healthy food, but mostly the promotion of omega-3 has mainly come from the health-food industry or nutraceutical companies [supplement manufacturers]," he says. Very few doctors, he adds, seem aware of the clinical trials supporting their use.

Yet while the science on omega-3s seems clear, the best way to get those oils can be a little murky. Making the right choice is important: Fish are high in industrial pollutants, and harvesting too many now could mean that down the line, there won't be enough of them left in the sea to save our hearts. So should you go for the real thing, or get your oil from over-the-counter supplements?

This: Fish Oil

Pros: For people who don't like the taste of fish, fish oil supplements provide an alternative without having to eat any fish. Oils are also less likely than whole fish to be contaminated with mercury, which is concentrated in muscle tissue rather than in fats or oils. Furthermore, the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says that most fish used in fish oils are from small fish like anchovies and sardines, which aren't under pressure from overharvesting. Fish oil made from wild Alaskan salmon is also an ecofreindly, heart-healthy choice.

Cons: While those tiny fish may be abundant, they're also food for other fish, and removing them from the food chain can leave a lot of larger species to go hungry. And although mercury levels may be low in fish oil supplements, those pills may have high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which build up in the fat of fish and make their way into oils. Finally, anyone who's swallowed a fish oil supplement has likely experienced the unpleasant side effect of "fish burp."

That: Fish

Pros: Healthy people can get the recommended level of omega-3s, 500 milligrams per day, by eating fish twice a week, says Dr. Lavie, and nutritionists note that it's easier for your body to absorb nutrients directly from food than from a pill. And fish are more than just a source of beneficial fatty acids. They’re also high in protein, as well as antioxidants like vitamin E and beta-carotene.

Cons: Deciphering the "good" fish from the "bad" fish, in terms of both fishery management and environmental contaminants such as mercury and PCBs, can give any fish-lover a headache. Both wild fish and farmed fish have environmental problems, and some types of farmed fish can have even higher levels of PCBs than their wild counterparts.


Published on: August 17, 2009

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remember the basics

we keep digging up old ways to keep ourselves healthy but we keep forgetting that running is very important , so buy some Liverpool tickets go to the game fell in love with it and start playing some soccer at least 3 times a week this is how i did

Fishy oil for healthy heart

What is your opinion with reference to LOVAZA, the omega-3 oil approved by FDA, also requiring a physician's order?
Thank you!...just need your comment.


Informative! Thanks.

More flax

PS flaxseed is as cheap as dirt, you can grind your own in a coffee grinder. I grind up a weeks at a time, storing in an airtight container in the fridge. Start with a teaspoon a day and work up to one or two tablespoons. Careful! Don't eat too much or you WILL be sorry.

Flax and other oils

Yes, ground flaxseed is an excellent source of omega 3's, and you get the benefit of the fiber too. Or buy flax oil or a blended oil. Skip the mercury.

eco-friendly omega 3 fatty acid

Eating lower on the food chain is healthier. That means eating plants rather than animals, who concentrate toxins in their flesh. Choosing plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids is safer, and they contain no cholesterol! Yellow and green veggies are sources of omega 3 fatty acid, as well as many other vitamins and minerals that we need... and NO cholesterol! Your heart will thank you.

the omega 3 dilemma, or not really

it doesn't have to be one or the other. supplements are just that, supplemental to a proper diet. take a lower amount of omega's in pill form , and continue to eat fish when you can. if you feel that your fish intake is not enough, bang down some added supp's. or vice-versa. just use some commonsense and you'll be fine.

non-fish sources

flax, walnuts, greens, hemp seeds, chia seeds, algae . . .

thanks for clearing this up

Thanks so much for clearing up something I've been wondering about for a while now.

I've been taking the oil supplements, but the question of where the oil comes from had begun to gnaw at me. Glad to hear I'm making the friendlier choice (and mine are third party tested for contamination of all kinds, which is reassuring).

Oh, and I agree on the flaxseed--perfect on oatmeal or yogurt.

Thanks again.

Omega 3s

There are plenty of non fish sources of healthy omega 3 fatty acids! Fruits and vegetables contain omegas. Hemp and flaxseed are good sources of Omegas! You don't have to choose between eating fish or taking fish oil! Look up vegan sources of Omega 3s. You'll find that you can get a lot of nutrients from plants that really have no "cons" unless you have an allergy or intolerance to certain ones. Forget the over harvested fish and the PCB laden fish oil and go eat some fruit!

Fish Oil

Much better article. Useful ideas and suggestions. Is 500 mg a day sufficient even though it says 500, 1000 and 2500 for different objectives?

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