Thinking Twice About Fish Oil Supplements

      It is very important to our brain, eye & heart health, mood, and immune system to consume healthy levels of Omega 3 fatty acids (in specific, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)). While they can be obtained by consuming fish, fish do not produce Omega 3s — fish derive them from microalgae. Some fish may be contaminated with mercury and other toxins that bioaccumulate up the food chain. (For information on safer fish, see the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition’s “Fishful Thinking” resource.) Fish typically used for supplements include Cod liver, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, Herring, and Salmon. These don’t tend to be high in mercury but may contain PCBs.

      There are, however, concerns about impacts to marine ecosystems from fish farms and overfishing of oceans, meaning taking fish out faster than they can reproduce. According to World Wildlife Fund, “More than 85% of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits… Several fish populations (e.g. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna) have declined to the point where their survival as a species is threatened.” (For more information on which fish populations are threatened vs. more sustainable, see Since fish are living beings that feel pain, there is also an ethical issue with unabated consumption; humans need to awaken to this and take responsibility. Not to mention recent news of fish being found with plastic particles in their stomachs due to human pollution.

      The good news is that there is no need to consume fish. Some companies market Omega 3s made directly from microalgae. For example, Nordic Naturals offers Algae Omega. It is recommended to obtain a minimum of 250-500 mg of Omega 3s per day, and this product contains 570 mg (320mg of DHA and 180mg of EPA). Another product, Ovega-3 Vegetarian/Vegan Omega-3, contains 135 mg EPA, 270 mg DHA. Other non-fish sources of Omega 3s include:

  • flaxseeds and flax oil
  • canola oil
  • walnuts
  • soybeans (edamame), and
  • hemp, pumpkin, and chia seeds

Note that these contain the fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which the body can convert to EPA and DHA, though the conversion is not perfect so you may want to consume a bit extra. Omega 3s must also be balanced with intake of Omega 6 (we need less of that), so be sure to do your research on what is right for you.

– By: Beth Fiteni


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Beth Fiteni

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