Fish or Fish Oil Supplements? 4 Things to Know

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say it again: NOTHING is as powerful as lifestyle changes for lowering your risk of chronic disease.

That being said (again…), I do believe that supplementation plays a role in health, but it can never replace a poor quality lifestyle.  Which brings us to this fish story in this particular study.  Researchers looked at a small group of overweight and obese participants and looked to see how much fish intake and fish oil supplements could affect the levels of high molecular weight (HMW) adiponectin (a hormone that has anti-diabetic properties).  Here are the details:

  • The supplements contained 1.8 g of EFAs and the diet was matched to contain the same amount in fish.
  •  Adiponectin increased by 0.29μg/mL in the fish group.
  • Adiponectin decreased by 0.60μg/mL in the fish oil ‘supplement.

Basically, there was a distinct difference in the supplement versus the dietary group.  The fish eating group moved away from diabetes (at least as far as adiponectin levels were concerned) while the supplement group moved towards diabetes.

Confusing, huh?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. First, much like anything else, supplements are not designed to work in a vacuum.  In other words, a crappy, processed lifestyle loaded with omega-6 fats will not be counterbalanced by any amount of fish oil supplementation.
  2. The processing of fats in our bodies is complex and requires balance between omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids.  Mother Nature provides the best balance.  Make sure your fish oil supplement contains the omega 6 GLA (black currant, borage oil or evening primrose).  If not, you may generate inflammation rather than protect against it.
  3. Fish oils can become oxidized in our bodies if we are burdened by oxidative stress from a poor quality lifestyle.  A diet loaded with protective phytonutrients from a large array of fruits, veggies and spices will help protect the fats that you take in, whether from a supplement or fish.
  4. Fish does not just contain “fish oil.”  For example, the pink color of salmon comes from the protective carotenoids they eat (the carotenoid most of us are aware of is beta-carotene, that gives carrots their orange color).  These additional protective compounds will help you avoid situation “3” above.

So, before you run to the cabinet and toss the fish oil supplements, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Consider all of the factors noted above and make sure that you are taking your fish oils in the proper context.  That means a good quality fish oil with a blend of omega 3, 6 and 9 as well as an overall good quality lifestyle loaded with protective compounds from your diet.  Feel free to download a free copy of my Lifestyle Recommendations ebook by clicking here.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.