By Joel Fuhrman, MD

The American diet is unquestionably low in Omega 3 fat. Omega 3 fats are healthy fats that reduce inflammation, inhibit cancer development and protect our blood vessels. The basic building block of omega-3 fat is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and flaxseeds are the food with the highest concentration of this much-needed fat. Besides omega 3 fats, flaxseeds also contain very high levels of photochemicals unique to flax that powerfully inhibit prostate, breast and colon cancer. However, these protective nutrients and lignans are not present in significant quantity in the oil, only in the whole seed. The whole seeds are tiny and difficult to chew, they typically pass through the body undigested, causing their beneficial nutrients to be lost. Therefore, it is best to buy ground flax seeds or grind the whole seeds before eating. Ground flax seeds are also susceptible to rancidity. In my house, we grind a pound at a time using our VitaMix and then store the ground seeds in the freezer to maintain stability of the fats before using. Every morning we just scoop what we need out of the container and put the rest back into the freezer. If you are buying ground seeds, once you open the vacuum sealed package, store it in the freezer.

DHA From Fish and Fish Oils

Proponents of fish have long touted the benefits of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docoshexanoic acid (DHA), two omega-3 fatty acids shown to exert health benefits. Fish is the source of these important fats that most people are aware of. The amount of EPA and DHA can vary significantly in various fish. Some salmon has very little DHA, for example. More importantly, several studies have indicated that fish oil supplements are prone to toxic materials. For example certain fish oils have been shown to contain large concentrations of dioxins and PCBs because the dumping of toxic waste and raw sewage into our oceans has taken a toll. Lipid peroxide contamination occurring with aging of the oil further complicates the supposed health benefits of fish oil consumption. Fish and fish oils also contains mercury. Data from the Center for Disease Control indicates that one in 12 women of childbearing age in the United States has unsafe mercury levels, and their threshold for safety is high. The major contributor to body mercury load is fish and fish oils, not dental fillings. Multiple studies have illustrated most of the body’s mercury load is from the consumption of fish.

Mercury levels have been linked with infertility, neurologic and mental disorders, high blood pressure, and endocrine disorders. Mercury levels are directly linked to the risk of heart attack. In an international case controlled study, mercury levels were assessed in 684 European men within 24 hours of a first myocardial infarction and in 724 control subjects without a heart attack. A strong dose response pattern was observed with a more than doubling of the risk for heart attack patients in the highest fifth of mercury levels compared to the lowest. Fish and fish oil is obviously not the ideal way to decrease ones risk of heart attack. Epidemiologic data on fish intake and fish-oil consumption is contradictory and inconsistent; some studies show a worsening of cardiac events that increases as fish consumption increases. Given the contamination issues with both fish and fish oils, the rancidity of fish oil and documented immune system suppression from fish oil, we cannot consider fish or fish oils, health food.

DHA is a beneficial fat, but we have to reconsider the source of how we find it. Fish are relatively toxic, compared to other foods. We have to seriously take a closer look at the typical recommendations of health authorities to consume more fish. After many years of reviewing the evidence and recording mercury levels in patients that invariably correlate well with their fish consumption, I recommend consuming little or no fish and avoiding those species of fish notoriously high in mercury such as shark, swordfish, mackerel, pike and bluefish.

Most of the publicity about the beneficial effects of essential fats has focused on fish oils, which are rich in EPA and DHA. One problem with fish oils is that much of the fat has already turned rancid. If you have ever cut open a capsule and tasted it, you will find it tastes like gasoline. Many people complain of burping, indigestion and of fish breath. I have also observed that rancidity of this fish fat places a stress on the liver. Patients of mine with abnormal liver function noted on their blood tests when consuming fish oil have had these tests return to normal when the fish oils were stopped.

Healthful Alternatives

A common mistake most people make when learning about the benefits of omega-3 fats is to start taking lots of fish oils. Please note that these beneficial fats are not only made in fish, we humans manufacture them as well. From the ALA found in flax and walnuts, our bodies can manufacture the long-chain omega-3 fats; EPA and DHA. The question that remains is can we make sufficient or ideal levels of these long chain fats without consuming fish and fish oils?

Our bodies can produce some EPA and DHA from the N-3 fat in flax seeds, leafy greens and walnuts, and for some people (especially those whose diet is superior) this production is sufficient. However, when I draw blood tests for fatty acid analysis on many of my patients, I find that a large percentage of individuals who do not eat fish regularly do not have optimal levels of DHA. How can we assure optimal production of DHA fat for all, if we are hesitant about recommending and consuming fish? The answer is to take a vegetable derived DHA capsule., Laboratory cultivated DHA is made from micro-algae and is a pure form of DHA without rancidity. It is grown in the laboratory, not collected in the wild. It has no mercury or other toxins. It is well tolerated and is not rancid. Omega Zen-3 contains 300 mg of pure DHA and it is the only vegetable derived DHA in a veggie capsule made in this country that I am aware of.

Most of the anti-cancer benefits of the N-3 oils are accounted for by the DHA component, not the EPA component. Plus the body can retrograde manufacture EPA from DHA, when DHA is supplemented. I advise most of my patients to take one of these clean DHA supplements once every other day.

Low DHA levels are associated with:

  • Heart Disease Depression
  • Cancer Anxiety/Panic
  • Alzheimer’s disease Hyperactivity
  • Attention Deficit Disorder Dyslexia
  • Allergies Autoimmune Illnesses
  • Dermatologic Disorders Inflammatory Bowel Disease