I have been getting asked questions on medicine and nutrition and I love it when people get in touch. Here is a Q&A I have worked on this week. Please feel free to get in touch with more. I am planning a live Q&A online very soon to mix it all up a bit on here. Keep reading.
Dear Dr Q,
Do you think it is nutritionally important to take a daily fish oil supplement or can we rely on eating oily fish? I have stopped taking them for a few weeks and thought I’d do some research before I re-ordered.
The current thinking suggests that there is no clear evidence.
Would you recommend them or do you think it is better to get omega 3s from fish itself? I am on the brink of buying a fish oil liquid but at nearly £50 for 150ml I am not sure.I would be grateful for any advice, thank you.
Dr Q says
An interesting topic!
I have read a lot of research papers, which do support the use of fish oil use in many conditions. I know there are some papers that conclude that there is no evidence for their use too, this can be confusing for people who are wondering whether to take them or not.
Sometimes, I have to say, I read the scientific papers and there is a lot written where they seem to be trying to compare apples with oranges and draw conclusions. Some papers seem to generate a lot of media attention too and that becomes less scientific and more sensational.
There are huge variations in quality of fish oil purity and the levels of EPA and DHA that are contained in them. My personal opinion is that you often get what you pay for.
It is always a good idea to have a look on the website of the brand that you are thinking of buying. Do you like their philosophy? Do they follow ethical values that you feel comfortable with? Do they offer to answer any advice you may have? Making sure the oil does not become oxidised is extremely important, so how you store it and use it is vital. Once the oil meets the light or the air the fat starts to oxidised and that is when it can become harmful more than beneficial. Look at the packaging and how the oil is stored.
Eating good quality oily fish is always going to be ideal as there are other benefits in the food such as protein, zinc, selenium…. but not everyone is able to eat 2 good portions of oily fish a week. Some don’t enjoy the actual taste, or they don’t find it practical. There are a number of reasons. The oily fish can remembered by the word SMASH. This stands for Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovy, Sardines and Herring. These are best, and again try to seek out quality. Fish CAN contain traces of mercury so check out your source. Two portions of fish from a good source will not pose a problem for most people. The World Health organization suggests limiting the amount to just twice a week if you are pregnant because of this so just bear it in mind.
I think whether you take supplements depends upon your own medical history, your own health and what your diet is like overall. Personally, I think there is often a good case to recommend a good quality fish oil in certain patients and so I do sometimes. People have to decide whether they genuinely see any benefit too, on blood tests or in the way they feel.
We are all individuals, and so what is good for someone may not be right for another.
I hope this helps, and thank you for your interest in my blog and for getting in touch
I don’t have any financial interests in any fish oil company or any other companies for that matter. My aim is to try and provide a sensible, non-biased and fair opinion on things medical. I’m always open to new ideas and looking at the evidence. Sometimes I change my mind too when the evidence changes! We live in an ever-changing world. Medicine is after all, just an opinion. The more informed we are, the better choices we can make for ourselves.