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Fish Flak. Should We Switch to Capsules?

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Government warnings about toxins in fish have consumers asking if they should be eating fish at all. Knowing that fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA, should we be taking fish oil supplements instead?

Government warnings about toxins in fish have consumers asking if they should be eating fish at all. Knowing that fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA, should we be taking fish oil supplements instead?

Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce our risk of heart disease, lower triglycerides, relieve negative effects of stress, alleviate depression, improve memory, increase birth weight and prenatal brain development to make bigger, smarter babies, help with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and much more. The research is clear: Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish offer many health benefits, but in light of Health Canada's warnings about mercury, dioxins and other contaminants, some people may be confused.

Mercury is a neurotoxin, damaging to our nervous system, and it accumulates in the body over time. Dioxins, any of several heterocyclic hydrocarbons that occur as persistent toxic impurities in herbicides and other chemicals, are known to cause cancer and disrupt the immune and central nervous systems.

Health Canada warned Canadians last year that they should limit consumption of shark, swordfish and fresh or frozen tuna to one meal a week. Pregnant women, women of childbearing age and young children should eat no more than one meal per month. (This advisory does not apply to Canadian canned tuna as it is checked for contaminants.) Other researchers believe pregnant women should avoid these fish completely.

alive has previously written about the dangers of farmed fish with their lowered levels of omega-3 fatty acids and higher levels of contaminants and environmental concerns. So should we be eating fish oil supplements instead? And are there concerns about contaminants in fish oil capsules? What if you are a vegetarian? Where can you get your omega-3 fatty acids?

Petter Skjerven of Denofa, one of the largest fish oil suppliers in the world, says, "No concerns about contaminants in fish oil capsules. There are stringent guidelines for mercury, dioxins, PCBs and other toxins in the finished fish oils." A multi-step refining process removes most impurities, including heavy metals and dioxins. If in doubt, write to the manufacturer and ask for proof of quality and purity.

Also knowing where your fish oil comes from is important. Wild salmon oil and cod liver oil capsules generally originate in cold waters of the Pacific or Atlantic. Other fish oils, such as those derived from sardines, anchovies and mackerel, are usually caught off the coast of Chile and Peru and the cold, deep waters of the South Pacific Ocean. Choose fish oil supplements from wild salmon, cod, anchovies, mackerel and sardines, none of which are on Health Canada's list of fish we should avoid.

Vegetarians can eat flax seed oil, flax seed, hemp oil, perilla oil, green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, black current seed oil, walnuts and hazelnuts. Ensure you take a multivitamin with minerals containing vitamin B6 and zinc to ensure better conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in these vegetarian sources.

Eat a varied diet, including shellfish and those fish not listed on the contaminated list along with essential fatty acid-rich oils to ensure optimal health.

No concerns about contaminants in fish oil capsules. There are stringent guidelines for mercury, dioxins, PCBs and other toxins in the finished fish oils.

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