Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements: A Safer Alternative?

BY ON May 30, 2012

Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements arranged in the shape of a fish

Sometimes when I start to do research on a specific health and safety issue, I feel overwhelmed…toxins from air pollution settles into our water and contaminates our fish with mercury…asthma is on the rise…the elderly are seeing a greater battle with Alzhemier’s Disease. I find myself wishing for simpler times when we could eat a fish sandwich after a summer day on Lake Erie with nary a thought to the contaminants in our bodies. However, we live in a time when being careful is not just wise, but necessary.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I craved tuna so badly I could hardly stand it. I dreamt of giant kale salads with tuna and Italian salad dressing. I didn’t eat one. Moms Clean Air Force wasn’t in my life yet, but I knew that the mercury in the tuna would impact my baby. I tried hard to keep the toxins away from my baby while she was developing. I learned to connect the dots between mercury and my family’s health. Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of toxic mercury and other toxins like arsenic, lead, nickel, chromium and acid gases. When a coal smokestack is not filtered, mercury and these other poisons are released into the air as coal is burned. That mercury drifts through the air and rains down into reservoirs, rivers, lakes and the ocean. Fish advisories are common in Ohio because of unsafe mercury contamination.

I was also worried that her brain wouldn’t develop properly because I wasn’t consuming Omega-3 fatty acids that are rich in fish. I’m sure you already know that mothers do intense research when they are worried, myself included.

I learned that according to the Harvard School of Public Health, Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to human life and play a vital role in human fetal development, specifically the brain and eyes. We need fatty acids for our bodies to function well. Right now, the safest option to get the fatty acids and not the toxins such as mercury, dioxins, PCBs is to take Omega-3 fish oil capsules.

Fish oil capsules are produced from small species such as anchovies or mackerel. (There is a relatively low ecological impact, as these fish are able to reproduce quickly and restore their numbers so that the marine ecosystems continue to thrive.) The oil is extracted via one of two methods and then centrifuged to create a more pure final product. These methods of molecular distillation and steam deodorization utilize extreme pressure and temperature to separate the fish oils from the pollutants listed above. Some producers of fish oil capsules will then go one step further and purify their fish oils so they will ultimately fit the most stringent standard of safety.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) considered the standards of several government agencies (in the states and internationally) to find out how safe fish oils supplements are. It seems it is more ecologically responsible and healthfully beneficial to consume a fish oil capsule rather than consume many of the species of fish on the Eco Best and Worst List.

Are you taking a fish oil capsule and wonder how it measures up to these standards? The EDF put together a list of 75 companies to help consumers make informed choices before purchasing fish oil supplements. They looked at the purity of their products to reduce or remove contaminants like mercury and dioxins.

As with any health regimen, check with your doctor first before taking fish oil. A Mayo Clinic article warns, “People with allergy or hypersensitivity to fish should avoid fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid products derived from fish.”

Does the revelation of getting the Omega-3 that our bodies need make you feel a little more empowered? It does for me. I was able to take fish oil capsules and not worry, which for this mama, was a huge step. Even though we have a long way to go in protecting our children, progress is being made. Mercury will always be in the back of my mind when I plan a meal that includes seafood, but at least I know that can get the benefit of the Omega-3s minus the toxins.


TOPICS: Asthma, Coal, Food, Mercury Poisoning, Motherhood, Ohio, Pollution