Fish oil is an excellent source of EPA and DHA, which the body uses to make the “calming” omega-3 fatty acids and keep the brain healthy. Consuming them directly can ensure that one gets enough.
As for drawbacks, some fish oil products are contaminated, and even those that are not may have undergone a cleaning process that creates a small percentage of toxic molecules. In addition, fish oil products also often employ extraction processes that are destructive to the quality of the oil.
Contaminants in fish can include mercury, other heavy metals including arsenic, industrial byproducts such as dioxins, industrial compounds such as PCBs, and pesticides such as DDT. Levels of various contaminants vary by species, by locale, and whether the fish are wild or farmed. In particular, farmed salmon has been shown to contain toxic chemicals because of contaminants in the foods they are given. While some suppliers are taking steps to improve farming conditions, it is not clear how widespread these changes are in the industry.
The human body can and does rid itself of contaminants. However, the process is slow for fat-soluble pollutants—which most of these are. For some pollutants, it can take as much as ten years to reduce the load by half. Typically, our intake rates of these substances are higher than our ability to get rid of them, so levels build up.
Plant oil (eg flax seed oil) contains ALA, which the body can use to make all the omega-3s that it needs, including both EPA and DHA. Indeed, if you get enough ALA, you don’t need to eat any other sources of omega-3s.
Another advantage of getting one’s omega-3s from the ALA in plant oil is that the body does not create more EPA and DHA than it needs. Therefore, ingesting too much EPA/DHA is not an issue.
It is true that fish oil is a better source of EPA and DHA. However, the human body uses a variety of omega-3s, not just EPA and DHA. To make the full range of these omega-3s, the body needs ALA from flax oil (or walnuts or other sources). Thus, one needs to consume ALA even if fish and/or fish oil are plentiful in one’s diet.
Experts recommend two helpings of fish in our weekly diet. It is encouraging to note that many people are beginning to heed this advice. Eating this modest amount of fish ensures a direct supply of EPA and DHA. Conversely, it is also observed that most people do not include enough or do not have access to food rich in ALA (eg nuts and seeds).
In conclusion, why limit oneself to either/or when it’s better to have both/and? Include two helpings of fish in your diet to ensure a direct supply of EPA and DHA, and add a reputable plant oil supplement (like Nu-factor® EFA Complex) to ensure an adequate intake level of ALA. Every cell in your body will thank you for it.