fish oil capsules arranged in a heart shape

Fish Oil as Health Risk? Sifting Through to the Facts

There’s no doubt that when it comes to preserving and maintaining health, we can be faced with lots of challenges. One way more people are choosing to deal with some of those challenges is through supplements.

fish oil capsules arranged in a heart shape

Consider fish oil. Rarely are its benefits disputed. Conditions that fish oil has been reported to help include

  • Heart health.
  • Weight loss.
  • Improved immunity.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Arthritis.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Eye disorders.
  • Skin issues.
  • Alzheimer’s.
  • Ulcers.
  • Pregnancy and development of fetus.
  • Fertility.
  • Hair care.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
  • Circulation.

Still, we should exercise caution. When it comes to fish oil, more isn’t necessarily better. For instance, fish can be contaminated with methylmercury, arsenic, lead, dioxins and more. Finding a good quality source is critical. Even then, doing additional research on its purity is strongly recommended.

Fish oil also delivers vitamins A and D. Both of these are fat soluble vitamins, meaning your body can store what it doesn’t need to use right away. This makes it important to know what quantities you’re actually consuming along with the fish oil itself. Getting too much of either can cause a wide variety of health problems.

And there may be potential side effects based on your health and other medications taken. Even so, we were surprised by a recent paper in JAMA Internal Medicine that appeared to shake a nagging finger at the increase in fish oil consumption and in serious side effects for those who also take blood thinners.

JAMA’s Anti-Supplement Bias

A press release from the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service (OMNS) suggests that fish oil is only the latest target of JAMA’s alleged bias against supplements.

Yes, fish oil consumption has increased. But so has the use of prescription drugs – including the blood thinners the paper highlights, particularly warfarin (Coumadin). As anyone who has taken warfarin knows, your blood levels are constantly checked for clotting factors. This is critical, since warfarin – by thinning the blood – can cause excess bleeding.

This potential exists with or without the addition of fish oil.

Further, as OMNS points out, drugs like warfarin require abstinence from foods rich in vitamin K. Statins that are commonly prescribed to inhibit this nutrient, though – along with coQ10 and selenium – and this may create problems, too. Essential nutrients are being depleted by the pharmaceutical drugs.

Not to be cynical here, but depleting nutrients seems a good way to keep people dependent on drugs and the drug companies in business.

This isn’t to say that some prescriptions aren’t warranted. But what may be missing most in this whole finger-pointing episode is good communication between doctors and patients. A holistic inquiry of your habits, health issues, supplementation, and goals can help avoid these kinds of problems while mapping out what’s really needed to help you restore and sustain your health.

That takes openness, honesty, trust. It takes a commitment to working together as a team. It takes not letting bias get in the way of understanding where you are, who you are, and what you need.

Image by Jo Christian Oterhals, via Flickr