Fish oil, or omega 3, is good for me right? That’s what we are told. And there are many more questions surrounding omega 3 that need to be answered:
- Does omega 3 cause prostate cancer, raise my cholesterol and make me more likely to bleed?
- I heard I could get heavy metal or mercury toxicity from omega 3. That doesn’t sound good!
- Will I smell like fish or burp up that fishy taste all day?
- How do I choose the right fish oil and what dose of omega 3 is best?
These are just some of the questions and topics of confusion that those of us in health care answer every day. So let’s take a moment and look at the big picture before we dive into the details.
Benefits of Omega 3
In my opinion, the real benefit of omega 3 is that it lowers inflammation in your body. There are two main omega fatty acids that your body cannot produce and needs from your diet: omega 3 and omega 6. These two fatty acids serve as a check and balance on each other: omega 6, when it is broken down, tends to promote inflammatory processes in the body; omega 3 tends to put out the inflammation.
Another way to think about it is that omega 6 is like starter fluid for a fire, really useful when you need a fire, and omega 3 is the fire extinguisher when you need to put that fire before it gets out of control. This check and balance makes sense in that it is believed that our early ancestors ate a diet that consisted of an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of about 2-4:1.
Thus, our bodies had the “supplies” to either start a fire or put out a fire depending upon what was needed at the time. Unfortunately, the typical American diet is closer to a 30-40:1 ratio Prostate Protocol of omega 6 to omega 3, so when it’s time to put out the fire there are no extinguishers.
If we can’t put out these fires it means that we may be achy and have more arthritis. We also now understand that long term inflammation is one of the leading causes of many chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, asthma and dementia, just to name a few.
In fact, in one review, those individuals with known cardiovascular disease that had an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 4:1 in their blood (as opposed to the higher levels seen in the typical American population) had a 70% reduction in total mortality.
In addition, fish oil has also been shown to improve elevated triglycerides, reduce joint symptoms in those with rheumatoid arthritis, improve mood, and in a recent study on children, those with higher omega 3 to omega 6 ratios had better memory and planning functions.
What are the drawbacks of Omega 3?
So what is the down side? At higher doses, fish oil has the potential to cause bleeding problems especially if someone is already taking a medicine to “thin their blood.” Paradoxically, since many take fish oil for their heart health, some individuals may find that there LDL cholesterol will increase on higher doses of omega 3. The cause of this may be due to a gene called ApoE4 that affects how your body metabolizes cholesterol. So the bottom line is that if you are starting a fish oil supplement, both of those things need to be monitored by your health care provider.
What about the recent article on omega 3 and prostate cancer?
There have been studies looking at omega 3 supplementation which show no association with prostate cancer and one study actually showed a reduction in prostate cancer death in those that took fish oil. The most recent study looked at blood levels of EPA/DHA in individuals and found that those with the highest levels were more likely to have prostate cancer. In this scenario it is difficult to know whether this is a cause and effect relationship or an association, so since there is conflicting data with different research protocols, no conclusions can be drawn until further studies are completed.