In Part 1 and Part 2 of our "Fish oil: Friend or foe?" series we wrote about our perspective on omega-3 fish oil, especially what we perceive to be its problems. In Part 3, we will be discussing a recent survey that we think cannot be ignored. Fish oil supplements are the most commonly used supplements among U.S. adults. The 2012 National Health Interview Survey found that a whopping 7.8% (19 million) of American adults had taken a fish oil product over the last 30 days. In the Netherlands and Europe, this will not be much lower.

But do people know what they are buying?

Results from a recent study (published December 2016) suggest that omega-3 fatty acid products contain varying amounts of other fatty acids, including undesirable saturated fats. What is equally alarming is that the researchers also found levels of degradation (peroxides and secondary oxidation compounds). These proved frighteningly high, even exceeding international industry standards.

Be careful with fish oil supplements

The fact that you ingest other fats than you think you bought is bad enough. But potentially harmful, spoiled omega-3's take the cake. These results, and the unanswered questions they evoke, confirm once again that people should be cautious in their choice and use of fish oil supplements. At Ergomax we eliminated omega-3 fish oils from our product range over nine years ago. This is because we had the same concerns as expressed the researchers. Another consideration was that fish oil is a highly refined product. These are known to be less effective (think of the SN2 position of DHA), and they lack that essential evolutionary package of (micro)nutrients and cofactors. We are not anti-fish oil, and we realize there are limitations to mentioned study, as only the three top-selling fish oil supplements were tested. We just think there are better options.

Going back to the basics. What makes omega-3 important?

It makes us human.Our brain seems to have been designed to run on omega-3 fatty acids.An important distinction between humans and other primates are the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the human brain.These long, polyunsaturated fatty acids play an important role in cell membranes of neurons and many other cells in the body.Here they increase permeability and coordinate communication between cells.If you exceed the limits of the original design you can expect mistakes.

DHA and the brain

The brain contains heaps of cell membranes, and cell membranes consist of fat. The fat contents and fat ratios of the brain are different than those found in other parts of the body. The only polyunsaturated fatty acids that occur in reasonable quantities in healthy brain tissue are the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and the omega-6 fatty acid AA (arachidonic acid). AA is found evenly distributed throughout the entire brain, while DHA occurs mainly in the gray matter, that is, the location of complex thought.

Why is there so much omega-3 fatty acid in the brain?

The short answer: the brain is a quantum computer and DHA is a quantum molecule. In 2013, professor Michael A. Crawford published one of the most fundamental DHA studies ever: "A quantum theory for the irreplaceable role of docosahexaenoic acid in neural cell signaling throughout evolution". In it, professor Crawford indicates how special DHA is biophysically. For more than 600 million years DHA has been essential for evolution in the animal kingdom. The unique structure of the molecule gives DHA quantum characteristics. This physical property makes that DHA can convert light into energy and vice versa. DHA therefore produces directly usable energy inside your brain.

DHA, a molecular chameleon

DHA is a peculiar molecule because it does not really have a stable form. The many double bonds found in the molecular structure allow it to bend and twist very easily. This makes its structural configuration very flexible. Thus, a membrane containing sufficient DHA can hardly be called a membrane. It's more like a unique structure properly considered a "biological extreme": a delicate fluid rather than the tough membranous layer known from old cell biology textbooks.

In summary

Omega-3s are still important and DHA is a miraculous fat. Consuming fresh oily fish is best because next to the untouched omega-3 fatty acids you also take in a complete package of other nutrients. If you are unable to regularly eat oily fish, supplements may be a wise solution. But it is important that you know what you are buying. We believe krill oil and minimally processed cod liver oil make for better choices than do omega-3 fish oils.   banner-omega-3