Vitamin E Vitamin E


Fish & Cod Liver Oil--Not Flax--Lower Inflammation

Most of you know I am a major fan of cod liver and fish oil. I write about it so much that when you type in cod liver oil in Google my articles comes up number one and fish oil comes up number 6 (this is amazing to me as there are over 4 million indexed articles on fish oil). When I read this new study this morning I was prompted to do a little mini review update on how you can optimize your health benefits with these oils and clear up some confusion many people have.

Your body cannot make omega-3 fats, it must get them from your diet. There are two main options, vegetable- or animal-based omega-3 fats. The major animal omega-3 fat is fish and cod liver oils and they are loaded with high order omega-3 fats like EPA and DHA. The primary plant-based omega-3 is flax and it has ALA. Many are not aware of the study I posted two years ago that showed ALA from flax is not equivalent in its biological effects to the long-chain omega-3 fats found in fish and cod liver oils. Your body converts only about 1 percent of ALA into EPA and even far less into DHA, which is a longer fat.

You many not know that it is DHA, not EPA, that is one of the primary fats in your brain. A new study now points out that DHA, and not EPA, is primarily responsible for the positive immune stimulation benefits of fish and cod liver oils as they suppress a number of markers of immune function including:

  • Lymphocyte proliferation
  • Cytotoxic T lymphocyte activity
  • Natural killer (NK) cell activity
  • Production of cytokines in laboratory animals

It is my impression that large numbers of people are seriously confused on this issue. I am always surprised when I lecture across the country how many people are still consuming flax seed oil. Flax seed oil should be given to a neighbor or relative that you don't like. Please don't use it. Nearly all of us benefit from the ALA in flax, but we should not consume flax as an oil, it should be consumed as freshly ground organic flaxseeds. This decreases oxidation of the perishable fats and also provides valuable water-soluble fibers called lignins.

It is also unwise to consume DHA by itself. Even though it is likely far more important than EPA, it is wise to consume them in their natural ratios. If you ever look at a cod liver oil label, you will see that although EPA and DHA are the primary fats there are clearly other fats in there that the body uses and have not been clearly identified as being useful. However, the whole fish food oil, not an isolated extract of DHA or EPA/DHA, is what is most likely going to provide all the omega-3 health benefits you need.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition April 2004;79(4) 674-681

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