something’s … fishy?
Well that sure sounds appetizing. I think I’ll pass on the super-cheap, probably-non-toxic fish pills. Even if the threshold for mercury is pretty high.
Hey, they might be good for you, and they’re probably not bad for you. Who wouldn’t buy that for a dollar?
Please don’t actually. The vast bulk of fish oil (and feed for farmed predatory fish, which are an environmental disaster for the most part) come from a particular small oily fish (a herring actually) called the Menhaden, though more commonly called Bunker. These things are the single most important baitfish in the US North Atlantic fisheries. And their populations are cratering in large part due to over fishing to supply fish meal (for those fish farms) and Fish oil (for supplements that don’t appear to work). In particular Virginia has some really poor fishery controls that see large corporate/commodity operations scooping up nearly the entire breeding production out of the Chesapeake (one of the largest and most important breeding sites for bunker) every year.
Our marine estuaries and the Atlantic fisheries are in rough enough shape without cutting out a huge chunk of the base of the food chain for supplements.
The Alaskan pollack sourcing would be a lot more of a sustainable option, its a very healthy fishery. But so was bunker before the fish oil fad and spike in fresh water fish farming.
You’re joking but I can see the environmental damage from my window.
I love all of them, but I have to wait until the cats are outside. Because I CANNOT eat sardines in peace. Harumph.
Right? The fish oil fad is like so many other facets of the typical western diet in terms of a complete lack of interest and concern about their environmental costs.
Anyway, it seems that whatever people might be gaining by eating fish oil can be gotten in other ways.
Exactly. How do you say no?!?
We had a cat, the dearly departed and much missed Shorty, who would steal fish right off your plate if you were not paying attention. Like jump on the table, bite into your piece of fish, run away and hide so she could eat it in peace.
Not even just environmental costs! My friends and neighbors who are commercial fisherman have seen their overhead sky rocket as the cost of bait goes up. And the fish oil fad and bunker population dive started just as fish stocks locally were starting to reach their highest points since the 1960’s and 70’s. So you have added over head, and a damn huge damper on the number of fish out there (peaking populations are headed down again or stalling out, nothing for the fish to eat among other problems). So you’re paying more for less effective bait to catch fewer fish than you should be given how populations were trending. And those fish are worth less at market because they’re short of food and in poor shape. So environmental improvement has reversed or stalled out in certain ways, while the ecconomic benefits from fisheries is worse off than ever. While Working fisherman and maritime communities are spending more to bring less in. There were 5 commercial boats in my local harbor when I was a kid. There were none as of the 90s, only charter boats. The larger harbor to the east had 10 boats when I was a kid. As of 5 years ago there were 3 or 4 left. This year there is one. My dad’s home town just to the south had 50ish boats in the 80’s. Now there’s at most 10, and most of those will gone come next year. Those are people who have lost their jobs and well being. And jobs that will not be there (and already aren’t) for my and following generations of residents here.
The benefit? Very wealthy supplement companies, often based abroad or in Utah get to sell people questionable pills for nothing in particular?
That sounds nice. But everyone stop buying fish oil now.
Its also interesting to note that everyone taking fish oil these days is basically consuming lamp oil. As in this:
Back in the day my town was a major center for the bunker fishery (this is not the first time over exploitation of bunker for oil has caused this issue). And the inlet around the block from my house at one point (long before I was born) housed the last operating bunker refinery in the state. The fish were processed for fertilizer, and for their oil. Whale oil, particularly the higher grades, was expensive. And as I understand it only the relatively wealthy (upper middle class, and the rich) could regularly afford it. The rest of us mooks burned bunker oil. The same sort of fish oil that’s in the vast bulk of those pills.
“might” be good for you. Unless you aren’t deficient in omega-3. Then it’s expensive piss.
BTW, Livestrong.com isn’t a very good source for any kind of factual information. It’s a content mill, and cites a bunch of work from the Linus Pauling institute, you know, that Nobel winning physicist who insists that medal makes him competent at physiology and medicine.
Thanks for the info. Do you have a more realiable health info go-to?
Both Ben Goldacre and Science Based Medicine have extensively covered fish oil. SBM is my usual go to for questionable health claims.
The squeaky eel gets the grease.
I like http://sciencebasedmedicine.org as does @Skeptic, and I also like the neurologica blog http://theness.com/neurologicablog. Additionally, going over the sources on Wikipedia tends to be a good starting point as well.
From the linked article:
To get an adequate dietary intake of DHA and EPA from non-animal sources, vegetarians need to consume omega-3 fatty acids from plants rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Your body then converts the ALA to DHA and EPA.
…poorly. It converts ALA poorly. Like 2% yield poorly.
There is a concentrated, vegetarian DHA/EPA supplement derived from blue algae (haven’t tried it myself) but it’s about four to five times the cost of your typical fish oil supplement.
To expand on what @LDoBe has already said: the signal-to-noise ratio in nutrition writing on the web is incredibly low. Outside academic journal databases, talk of studies in nutrition science is unreliable and often wrong (or worse, not even wrong). Bloggers misinterpret studies, fail to see red flags in experimental design or statistical analysis, and in many cases straight-up cherry-pick what they want to hear (see: ‘paleo’ dieters).
All of which is a disservice to people who just want to reform their diet for a healthier life and greater longevity. Vegan diets are fine as long as you supplement with B12. Most important is (1) eating for your activity level, and (2) eating enough of the right foods. This can be achieved on any diet inclusive of the vegan diet.
My advice to people who want to know the nitty-gritty on nutrition: buy a used nutrition textbook and read it until you have the framework and terminology to take the next step: searching for your topic of interest through an academic journal database such as PubMed.
The whole Nootropics crowd is guilty of this too. It’s frustrating too, because they’re trying to do stuff I’m really interested in, but the entirety of their “science” is unblinded, uncontrolled, N=1 studies of themselves, plus hearsay. There’s also the problem that they never admit that the 20 other drugs and things they’re doing are confounding factors for whatever they’re testing.
My anecdotal evidence as a decades-long consumer of fish oil products at various price points: my brain likes Omega-3s, and they have proven as effective as pharmacological anti-depressants for me at a dose of 3-5 grams a day. I do make sure that the supplements I use are subject to some sort of external certification regarding mercury levels and sourcing. And I regularly supplement that with the best and most readily absorbable forms (subject to similar certification) of the EFAs: