Why fish stomps flax as a source of omega-3

May 5, 2010 in Food & Nutrition, Myths & Truths | 47 comments

salmon on plateI want to thank everyone for sending in their questions and voting on the next topic. The good news is that there’s a lot of interest in all of the topics I’m researching right now. The bad news is that there was no clear winner.

I’ve decided to go ahead with the series on fish and fish oil, but I may write about thyroid and diabetes simultaneously. I’m also going to experiment with shorter (although I’m clearly breaking that rule here), but more frequent, articles. Hopefully these will be easier for me to write and for you to read.

Finally, stay tuned for the first episode of The Healthy Skeptic audio podcast, coming up next week. I’ll be interviewing Stephan Guyenet, Ph.D, on the subject of obesity and weight regulation. Stephan is a senior fellow at the University of Washington studying the neurobiology of body fat regulation. He’s also the author of Whole Health Source, which is one of my favorite health related blogs.

Before we get into talking about the benefits of fish consumption, or how how much fish or fish oil you should eat, it’s probably a good idea to start with a basic review of the omega-3 fatty acids.

Essential Fatty Acids 101

A fatty acid is a chain of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms with a carboxyl group on one end. Fatty acids are classified on the basis of how many carbon atoms are in the chain, as well as how many double bonds exist within the molecule.

Fish contain a variety of fatty acids, but the ones that are believed to confer the majority of the benefits are the long-chain omega-3 fats eicosapentanaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These omega-3 fats are found exclusively in seafood and marine algae.

As you can see from the chart below, it is also possible for the body to synthesize EPA and DHA from the short-chain omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is found in plant foods such as flax, hemp and pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

Click thumbnail for a larger version

However, research clearly indicates that the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is extremely limited. Less than 5% of ALA gets converted to EPA, and less than 0.5% (one-half of one percent) of ALA is converted to DHA.

A common misconception, especially amongst vegetarians and vegans, is that our need for EPA and DHA can be met by consuming flax oil and other plant sources of ALA. But the conversion numbers above clearly indicate that this isn’t the case.

Studies have shown that ALA supplements (like flax oil) are unable to raise plasma DHA levels in vegans, despite low DHA levels at baseline. (ref) So unless they are supplementing with an algae-derived source of DHA, it is likely that most vegetarians and vegans are deficient.

This is significant because researchers now believe that the majority of the health benefits we get from dietary omega-3 fats come from the longer chain derivatives (especially DHA, as I will explain below).

Is DHA essential?

In fact, some researchers have proposed that DHA is essential. When scientists label a nutrient as “essential”, they they’re not just saying that it’s “very important”. In the context of nutrition essential means that the nutrient cannot be synthesized in the human body, and must be derived from dietary sources.

According to today’s nutrition textbooks, there are only two essential fatty acids, omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) and omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is believed that as long as these fats are present in the diet, all of the longer-chain omega-3 and omega-6 derivatives can be synthesized in the body.

As I pointed out above, while this is theoretically possible, in reality the conversion doesn’t work well. This is true even for healthy people, but it’s especially true for those with nutrient deficiencies, because the conversion of ALA to DHA depends on zinc, iron and pyridoxine.

The bioavailability of iron in plant sources is poor compared to animal sources, so iron deficiency is common in vegans and vegetarians. This is another reason why they tend to be poor converters of ALA to DHA.

Several other observations support the hypothesis that DHA is essential:

  • DHA content in the tissues of all mammals is very similar despite widely varying intakes of omega-3 fatty acids. 1
  • DHA and AA, but not other omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids, are selectively transferred across the placenta (PDF).
  • 60% of the dry matter of the brain is lipid, and DHA and AA are the most abundant fatty acids of brain phospholipids (PDF)
  • DHA status in newborns is much lower in those receiving formula with LA and ALA, than in those receiving milk or formula with pre-formed DHA (PDF)

It is possible that the primarily carnivorous diet of our ancestors, which ensured a consistently high dietary intake of DHA and AA, precluded the need to evolve efficient conversion mechanisms.

In other words, since we were eating a lot of meat and fish with pre-formed DHA and AA, our bodies didn’t need to be experts at converting ALA and LA in plants to DHA and AA. It is far easier for the body to assimilate pre-formed DHA and AA than it is to synthesize them from precursors.

What about EPA? Isn’t it essential too?

EPA is another long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that is conventionally believed to be responsible for the benefits of fish consumption.

EPA is often referred to as “anti-inflammatory”. However, according to this report on essential fatty acids by Masterjohn, EPA’s effect seems to be more of an interference with the metabolism of omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA) than the performance of any essential role itself.

Take a look at the chart again that I linked to in the beginning of the post. The fatty acids in blue boxes are less inflammatory, and those in pink boxes are more inflammatory. The chart shows that AA is used to synthesize prostaglandins that cause inflammation (indicated by the pink box on the chart). Because it has the same number of carbon atoms, EPA competes with AA for the enzymes that metabolize it. Since the prostaglandins made by EPA are less inflammatory than those made by AA (indicated by the blue box), EPA is often referred to as “anti-inflammatory”.

But while EPA is certainly less inflammatory than AA, it doesn’t make sense that the body would require an essential fatty acid just to block the inflammatory effects of of another fatty acid.

By contrast, DHA is used to synthesize compounds that play an active role in resolving inflammation. EPA only makes these compounds in the presence of aspirin (PDF). EPA is thus likely to simply be a byproduct of compromised DHA synthesis.

What does this mean to you?

Putting all of this information together yields the following conclusions:

  1. DHA is the most important of the omega-3 fatty acids, and is primarily responsible for the benefits we get from consuming them.
  2. DHA is likely to be essential, which means that you must consume it in the diet to prevent disease and ensure optimal function.
  3. The conversion of plant sources of ALA, such as flax seed oil, to DHA is poor in healthy people and even worse in people deficient in certain nutrients. Vegans and vegetarians are especially prone to be poor converters of ALA to DHA.
  4. If you’ve been buying flax oil in the hopes that it will help, you’d be far better off putting that money towards some fish or fish oil capsules.

Dietary changes over the past century have lowered the DHA status to a state of subclinical deficiency in many people. Countless studies show that this deficiency is at least in part to blame for the rising incidence of cardiovascular disease, inflammatory disease, mental and psychiatric disorders and suboptimal neurodevelopment.

DHA is not the only reason to eat fish, which is also rich in selenium and vitamin D. However, DHA is likely to be the primary reason why populations that eat fish on a regular basis have consistently been shown to healthier than those that don’t. We’ll discuss this further in the next article.

  1. Jones PJH, Kubow S. Lipids, Sterols, and their Metabolites. In: Shils ME, et al., eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease: Tenth Edition. Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (2006) pp. 92-122.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Moss Bliss May 6, 2010 at 10:39 am

The studies on mental health benefits all point to EPA, not DHA, as the primary agent.  See also The Omega-3 Connection by Andrew Stoll, M.D., of Harvard Medical School.  Nonetheless, fish oil is the almost-sole direct source of EPA.  Good article.


Chris Kresser May 6, 2010 at 10:48 am

Many studies suggesting EPA provides the greatest benefit are flawed. They are conducted in humans consuming a massive excess of linoleate; they have used very small amounts of ALA; they measure blood levels instead of tissue levels; and they don’t take into account vitamin B6 status or any of the other variables that affect desaturase activity.

The standard American diet is excessively high in LA (at least fifteen times the required amount). LA depresses the production of DHA, especially if the intake of ALA is low (as it often is in the U.S.) Since DHA, but not EPA, is preferentially incorporated into tissues, measuring blood levels probably overestimates EPA and underestimates DHA.

The EPA content of terrestrial animal products, even those rich in DHA, is minimal. While DHA content in tissues is very similar across all mammals, the same is not true for EPA.

For these reasons I believe the role of EPA has been overestimated.


Peggy The Primal Parent May 14, 2011 at 8:31 am

It is fascinating to me how studies conducted on unhealthy subjects can throw off results and lead scientists to totally irrelevant and incorrect conclusions. How much of our current research is flawed due to these “hidden” variables.


Moss Bliss May 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Peggy, I find it equally distressing, if not more so, that they test drugs for treating diagnoses on healthy patients, not on patients with the disorder they aim to treat. How can they find out the efficacy of a medication by testing it on someone who does not have the problem?


Robert Jacobs May 6, 2010 at 11:14 am

Thanks for a good piece on Omega 3′s.  I agree that fish is healthy, and, if one wants Omega 3′s (I still remain skeptical that this is true), fish is probably the best source.
It has long been a primary belief of mine that whatever is commonly promoted and sold to consumers is probably not healthy, or that the kernel of truth regarding the issue is seriously misunderstood.  That makes me a skeptic of nearly everything.  However, from my previous readings (these are sources cited by others, not me, I am just a layman trying to figure things out) some research seems to have doubts about DHA and all Omega 3′s.  Just thought I send some of their references:

Free Radic Res. 2001 Apr;34(4): 427-35. DHA supplementation increases oxidative damage in bone marrow DNA in rats and the relation to antioxidant vitamins. Umegaki, et al.
J Physiol. Feb 15;475(1):83-93. Facilitatory effect of DHA on N-methyl-d-aspartate response in pyramidal neurons of rats’ cerebral cortex. Nishikawa, et al.
[ I think this entire piece is worth a read ] : http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/fishoil.shtml

Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Nov;80(5):1167-74. Docosahexaenoic acid concentrations are higher in women than in men because of estrogenic effects. Giltay EJ, Gooren LJ, Toorians AW, Katan MB, Zock PL. “The proportion of DHA was 15 +/- 4% (x +/- SEM; P < 0.0005) higher in the women than in the men. Among the women, those taking oral contraceptives had 10 +/- 4% (P = 0.08) higher DHA concentrations than did those not taking oral contraceptives. Administration of oral ethinyl estradiol, but not transdermal 17beta-estradiol, increased DHA by 42 +/- 8% (P < 0.0005), whereas the antiandrogen cyproterone acetate did not affect DHA. Parenteral testosterone decreased DHA by 22 +/- 4% (P < 0.0005) in female-to-male transsexual subjects. Anastrozole decreased estradiol concentrations significantly and DHA concentrations nonsignificantly (9 +/- 6%; P = 0.09). CONCLUSION: Estrogens cause higher DHA concentrations in women than in men, probably by upregulating synthesis of DHA from vegetable precursors.
Neurobiol Aging. 1982 Fall;3(3):173-8. Lipid peroxides in brain during aging and vitamin E deficiency: possible relations to changes in neurotransmitter indices. Noda Y, McGeer PL, McGeer EG. “Lipid peroxide levels, were found to be significantly higher in brains of 18 month old as compared to 4 month old rats, with particularly large increases occurring in the olfactory bulb, globus pallidus, cerebral cortex and caudate-putamen (CP). Eighteen month old rats fed a vitamin E deficient diet for 9 months before sacrifice had lipid peroxide levels significantly higher than age-matched controls in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus and hypothalamus.” “Age-related decreases were seen in choline acetyltransferase, acetylcholinesterase and 3H-QNB binding in some but not all brain regions, while GABA transaminase and MAO showed age-related increases.” “As compared with controls, vitamin E deficient rats showed decreases of 38% in cortical 3H-DHA binding, of 33% in 3H-QNB binding in the CP and of 23% and 12% in choline acetyltransferase in the CP and cerebellum, respectively.”

Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2005 Mar;371(3):202-11. Epub 2005 Apr 15. Antiarrhythmic and electrophysiological effects of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Dhein S, Michaelis B, Mohr FW. “Atrioventricular conduction time was slowed only by DHA and EPA.” “Regarding antiarrhythmic activity we found that the threshold for elicitation of a ventricular extrasystole was concentration-dependently enhanced by DHA and EPA, but not by ALA. DHA dose-dependently reduced longitudinal propagation velocity V(L) and to a lower extent transverse velocity V(T).”
J Biol Chem. 2002 Oct 18;277(42):39368-78. The mechanism of docosahexaenoic acid-induced phospholipase D activation inhuman lymphocytes involves exclusion of the enzyme from lipid rafts. Diaz O, Berquand A, Dubois M, Di Agostino S, Sette C, Bourgoin S, Lagarde M, Nemoz G, Prigent AF. “Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid that inhibits T lymphocyte activation, has been shown to stimulate phospholipase D (PLD) activity in stimulated human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC).” “This PLD activation might be responsible for the immunosuppressive effect of DHA because it is known to transmit antiproliferative signals in lymphoid cells.”
J Nutr 2000 Dec;130(12):3028-33. Polyunsaturated (n-3) fatty acids susceptible to peroxidation are increased in plasma and tissue lipids of rats fed docosahexaenoic acid-containing oils. Song JH, Fujimoto K, Miyazawa T.. “Thus, high incorporation of (n-3) fatty acids (mainly DHA) into plasma and tissue lipids due to DHA-containing oil ingestion may undesirably affect tissues by enhancing susceptibility of membranes to lipid peroxidation and by disrupting the antioxidant system.”


Chris Kresser May 6, 2010 at 12:13 pm


I’ve read a lot of Ray Peat’s stuff, as well as other research suggesting n-3s aren’t essential. Overall, I believe the epidemiological and clinical evidence supports the hypothesis that DHA reduces CVD mortality and improves other outcomes. I’ll be covering this in more detail in subsequent posts in this series.


Risa Graves May 6, 2010 at 11:18 am

Could you please comment as to the amount of fish, and what types we should be consuming? Salmon and sardines are my favorites, but are there others high in omega 3′s? thank you


Chris Kresser May 6, 2010 at 12:13 pm


I’ll be answering your questions in detail in subsequent posts in this series.


Robert Jacobs May 6, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Chris   –
Right. I know you have done so, by the comments you have made and your writings.  I look forward to your next piece.  Keep up the good work.


Moss Bliss May 6, 2010 at 5:24 pm

@Chris Kesser – EPA content in the body could easily be overestimated, but brain content is quite high.  Dr. Stoll’s tests, and others, show that DHA has less effect on mental processes, specifically aiding proper firing of neurons, than EPA does.  Almost beside the point – fish oil is better than flax, hemp, etc.
We could use some studies on GLA.  There are a few positive indications in mental health, but I have yet to see verifiable studies.


Jesse May 6, 2010 at 9:05 pm

I’d like to thank you for inspiring me to actually take my algal oil. The capsules are so big that I hadn’t been able to swallow them before tonight. It’s so much more pleasant to swallow them than to break them open and mix them into my oatmeal.
Also, what exactly does DHA DO? What happens if we don’t get enough?


Chris Kresser May 6, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I’ll be covering that in detail in the posts to follow.


enliteneer May 7, 2010 at 11:22 am

Is it true that all polyunsaturated fats have omega-6 and omega-3s?
Similarly, would all monounsaturated fats contain omega-9s?


Chris Kresser May 7, 2010 at 11:30 am

Not exactly. A polyunsaturated fat is a fatty acid with more than one double-bond. Omega-6 and Omega-3 are different types of polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is true that many foods have a range of fats in them, including polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6), monounsaturated (n-9 and n-7) and saturated. When we refer to a “saturated fat”, like coconut oil, we’re referring to a fat that is primarily made up of saturated fatty acids. Coconut oil is 92.1% saturated fat, 6.2% monounsaturated, and 1.6% polyunsaturated. Most fats have a more even distribution of fatty acids. All monounsaturated fats will contain at least some omega-9.


SN May 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Our ancestors were never primarily carnivorous. Animal based foods were few and far between until modern humans … and even then animal based foods were few and far between for all but the most wealthy until very recently in our history. When there’s such a glaring mistake, it’s hard to take any of your other “facts” seriously.


Chris Kresser May 7, 2010 at 10:58 pm


Show me one study published in a reputable journal that supports your viewpoint. The idea that animal foods were “few and far between” is absurd.


Moss Bliss May 8, 2010 at 10:43 am

Ditto, SN.  Show me your sources.
The anthropologists who talked with Dr. Stoll for his book indicated that, at some point in our evolution, there were several hominid species competing, and the tribes that lived along the lake (spearing and eating fish) were the ones whose brains grew, enabling them to out-compete the other tribes and causing the final step in Homo sapiens.


Chris Kresser May 8, 2010 at 1:28 pm


I agree with you on that.  I’ve seen some interesting evidence which contradicts the “savannah hypothesis”, and suggests instead that hominids evolved along the edges of lakes as Dr. Stoll reports.

We won’t see any sources from SN.  There aren’t any.


Chris Kresser May 11, 2010 at 9:08 am
Moss Bliss May 11, 2010 at 2:16 pm

@Robert Jacobs – I know that fish oil has been one of the most significant contributors to my remaining relatively mentally healthy without all the psychiatric drugs my doctors had me on a merry-go-round of.  As Dr. Stoll suggests that EPA is the major reason for this, I am thankful.  Note that Dr. Stoll convinced his wife so much of his studies that she started a company producing OmegaBrite, a product with a 10:1 ratio of EPA:DHA, even though Dr. Stoll’s studies said nothing about other than a 3:2 ratio of them.
@Chris Kresser — Thanks for more articles.  I’m going over there to read them now.


Tracee May 20, 2010 at 9:18 am

I love your series.  Adding omega-3 supplementation while decreasing omega-6 in our diets was our first diet change that my son’s autism made big improvements on (the SCD was the other drastic improvement). For some reason, the research points to autistics doing better with a higher EPA to DHA ratio (the reverse for ADHD). My son is more bright-eyed  with a higher EPA blend. I had also found  a journal article that showed EPA seemed to be protective against LPS. So maybe there’s more to the EPA thing than we can tell?


Chris Kresser May 20, 2010 at 9:37 am

Hi Tracee,

Thanks for sharing your experience.  Yes, there is still much we don’t know – especially about the relative importance of EPA and DHA.  It’s interesting to hear that EPA is more effective for your son.


Roger Kaza June 10, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Hi, great post and podcast.
I know fish oil stomps flax, but I have two questions:
Do plant-based n-3 oils “count” in our caloric balancing act of n-3 and n-6, even if 99%  of it doesn’t get converted?
Is it possible that the unconverted 99% is valuable and healthy in some other way besides simple conversion to DHA and EPA?
Thanks for your work.


Chris Kresser June 10, 2010 at 9:31 pm

N-3 still counts in the ratio, but you’d want to emphasize EPA & DHA. And yes, it’s possible that ALA has some benefit but studies definitely suggest that the bulk of the benefit comes from EPA & DHA.


Khrystyna June 23, 2010 at 6:05 am

Thanks so much for writing this series of articles on fats and fish oils, I recently converted to a paleo diet and eating too many nuts and not enough fish has been my major downfall, this has given me the motivational kick up the arse I needed to get it together and sort it out. I love your site, keep up the great work, it’s very much appreciated!
Take care,



Khrystyna June 23, 2010 at 6:09 am

Oh and I hope you don’t mind I linked you up to my blog!


David July 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Great article (as always) Chris. Question: Have you found any differences between algae containing DHA vs. just eating fish? Also, Do you know of any differences between farmed fish (i.e. farmed salmon) vs. wild salmon in regards to DHA levels?


Chris Kresser July 20, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Whole fish has selenium, vitamin D (in some cases) and protein. It’s a more complete food, and absorption of the EFAs is better than it is in oils or capsules as I explained in another article. Wild salmon often has more DHA than farmed from what I’ve seen.


David July 20, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Thanks Chris. I had read somewhere that farmed fish did not contain an omega 3 that was useful to the body, but didn’t know what to make of it. Have you ever heard of this? Or, is the quality of n-3 the same, and the only difference is the quantity? It’s rather difficult to source wild salmon and tuna and salmon are the only fish I really enjoy eating.


Chris Kresser July 20, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I’m not sure about that (farmed fish containing EFAs that aren’t useful).  I haven’t seen any mention of it in the literature.  But there are several other reasons to avoid farmed salmon, as you probably know.

If fresh wild salmon is hard to come by, you might try ordering canned wild salmon from Vital Choice.


David July 20, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Interesting. Thank you for the recommendation.


Moss Bliss July 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm

David – I keep getting asked by vegetarians whether they have to eat fish oil, and I tell them about the GNC DHA-from-algae product.  Nobody yet has reported back to me whether it helped them.  I’d like to know.
Chris – It makes sense that the fish-processed DHA, with EPA, Selenium, etc., would be better for us.  “Makes sense” does not provide proof, and I’d like to see it, but it’s a reasonable working hypothesis.


Anwen July 22, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Great podcast – I just listened to it and I would like to know your opinion on a few things:
I’m somewhat confused as to the Omegas that are so widely added to supermarket eggs (Omega 3 +6).  What is the point of this if Omega 6 potentially cancels out the effects of Omega 3?
Secondly, you talk about fish oils and fish as a good source of Omega3s/DHA however it depends on how well your body can break them down to absorb – depending on your current diet and intake of Omega 6.
What is your take on micro-bluegreen algae such as Chorella and Spirulina as sources of DHA compared to fish oils (both in fish form and supplement form)From my understanding, Chorella has higher potency per unit than Spirulina, and both algaes have essential amino acids that are absorbed by the body at a higher ratio than oils.


Chris Kresser July 22, 2010 at 8:12 pm

I’ve never seen eggs with added omega-6 (I’d avoid them like the plague), but I have seen eggs with added omega-3. They do that because the confinement hens those eggs come from never get access to the free range, and never eat foods that would raise the omega-3 content of their eggs. They feed them flax seed instead to bring the omega-3 content up. If you’re buying supermarket eggs, those are your best bet.

Spirulina and chlorella aren’t adequate sources of DHA. However, in my final article in the series I describe an algae-based DHA supplement that is suitable for vegetarians.


Glenn Atkisson January 18, 2011 at 9:50 pm

As another healthy skeptic, I read this article and saw mostly the same things that myself and 50,000 others at least have seen on many websites that are trying to explain why humans need essential oils, and how they use them. In the interest of debunking a few mainstream myths here, I would like to suggest that all of us go directly to http://www.brianpeskin.com/ and read and or listen to what Brian Peskin has to say about the essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. It certainly debunks a lot of the mainstream ideas about Lenoleic and Alpha Lenolenic Acid.

Brian reads over 600 research articles per week and is the person I would consider the premier expert on the use of the essential oils in human physiology. Now I’m not suggesting to go to his website and read one article and then return to the mainstream. I’m actually suggesting going there and reading everything he has to say. That is, if you’re interested in the study of these oils in the human body.

I think that if you read what he has discovered, you will see why people survived fine for these millions of years whether they ate fish or not. Why its not really necessary to find every “best” source of every nutrient on the planet and restrict your intake to each of the “best” sources.

Brian does not make statements like “believed to confer”. He writes purely what has been determined by experiments to be the case. So if you read his papers, you will soon learn that EPA and DHA are NOT found exclusively in seafood. Its obviously impossible, because they are found in the human body, even a human body that has never eaten seafood. Even Chris says above, “DHA content in tissues is very similar across all mammals”.

Of course, EPA and DHA are derivatives of the parent omega-3 fatty acid, ALA. The human body makes them as needed. The mainstream media keeps saying that unless the human body is very well supplied with supporting minerals such as zinc, iron and pyridoxine, it can’t even create the DHA it needs from the essential parent, ALA. Bunk. If humans were so frail and dependent on seafood they would have gone extinct long ago. Its quite obvious from observing societies that eat no fish, that the human body does just fine at deriving the medium chain fatty acids EPA and DHA from ALA. What the mainstream has mistaken for “inefficient conversion” of ALA in human plasma is based on the assumption that all ALA is good for is to supply EPA and DHA to the tissues. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Both Linoleic and Alpha Lenolenic Acids have multiple functions in the human body, especially in the cell walls, over and above allowing themselves to be broken down into the derivatives pictured in the “Eicosanoids” chart above. For instance, Lenoleic Acid is the efficient means of pulling oxygen from the blood into the cell for metabolism. Omega-9 can do this also, but it takes two molecules of Omega-9 (monosaturated) to do what one molecule of Lenoleic Acid (omega-6) can do. And this is precisely why consumption of adulterated cooking oils made from omega-6 rich plant oils such as corn and safflower is causing our great cancer and heart disease epidemics. Once the omega-6 is ruined, it still takes a place in the cell walls of each of our 10 trillion cells, but it doesn’t FUNCTION. Once a cell goes a period of time with even a 35% reduction in oxygen, it starts deriving energy TOTALLY from fermentation, and NONE from oxidation. Once this switch is thrown, it never reverses. That cell is cancerous.

Chris, when you say, in introducing your chart of the fatty acids “it is also possible for the body to synthesize EPA and DHA from the short-chain omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid” it implies that the process is some sort of back-up system, for the case where the person hasn’t ingested and distributed enough EPA and DHA. This is somewhat misleading, as we all know that we’ve survived millions of year without fish oil supplements, many of our ancestral lines without any sea food. Its better to look at the synthesis as the original design. It works that way in animals, period. Its just one of the many things that makes the species resilient.

To summarize, we’re doing just fine if we can eat healthy foods. We don’t really need to supplement with more omega-3′s. The paramount thing that will make you healthy is absolutely cutting out the adulterated omega-6′s that you get in almost all processed, commercial foods. It the food has a shelf-life greater than 2 weeks, or is not in the frozen or refrigerated section, and it has any kind of fat in it that isn’t saturated, don’t touch it. don’t eat in restaurants because you have no idea what you’re getting. If we did that, we would cut down on the 40 to 1 omega-6 to omega-3 imbalance and end up with a natural, healthy diet with respect to fats (assuming we also get plenty of saturated fats) and the whole issue of supplementation could fly out the window.

But for some reason, most people advising others on fatty acids won’t take on the whole food industry, maybe for fear they will lose their audience? So they hardly mention omega-6 except to say either we get too much, or it is “bad”. They only try to sell the idea of increasing our intake of omega-3′s. How sadly misleading. All the EPA and DHA


Glenn Atkisson January 18, 2011 at 10:08 pm

To finish, All the EPA and DHA humans are now overdosing on now will eventually show up as a problem. The body was designed to create EPA and DHA as it needs them, and within each individual cell. There never before this decade were vast quantities of these derivative floating around in the the blood (which, by the way, you need cholesterol to transport), being stuffed into this cell and that cell, and not just into fat cells.

A strange thing I’ve observed, mostly from reader comments, on the human perspective on nutrition: We all want the best, most potent source of everything. There are people who consume almost nothing EXCEPT supplements, if you include things like smoothies and protein drinks, because of their heavy supplement load. There is absolutely no way that we can expect to get anything except an imbalance by eating this way. I suggest as an alternative to start a garden or find a local source of really, really healthy food, and see if you dare then to drop the supplements. Remember, even “organic” doesn’t mean healthy. A piece of land can be certified as organic within 3 years. Does that mean all the nutrients are in the soil to provide really healthy food. No, it just means relatively free of pesticides, commercials fertilizers, etc. The health of the soil is only partly restored.

Back on subject: Regarding Essential Fatty Acids, read ALL of Brian Peskin.

He’s iconoclastic. He breaks with tradition. He exposes myths. He’s scientific. He’s unrelenting. What more could you ask for as a Skeptic?


Moss Bliss January 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Actually, Glenn, I’ve been telling my “people” NOT to go for the highest-potency fish oil. The high-potency ones usually don’t have the same balance of EPA to DHA (usually favoring EPA, such as OmegaBrite), and there may be effective cofactors in regular fish oil that don’t exist when you concentrate it for EPA and DHA content.

As most of the people I advocate for are people with diagnosed mental health challenges, and as we all (with very few exceptions) appear to be getting great benefits from continued use of at least 4 grams of regular-strength fish oil, and as it is cheaper and much more effective than the drugs our doctors would rather give us, I think we’ll continue taking our fish oil. I’m aware of the other benefits to the body of Omega-3s; but to us, those are just beneficial side-effects.


Moss Bliss January 18, 2011 at 10:39 pm

[amended to add] … not just cheaper and more effective, but MUCH safer, especially in long-term use…


Glenn Atkisson January 19, 2011 at 9:13 am

Thanks Moss. I see you are dealing with people with “special needs” and that can benefit therefore from “special treatment” that is possibly outside what has been determined physiologically to be adequate amounts of nutrients. Since I don’t know which maladies you deal with I can’t comment on the methods you might use, but I don’t doubt you’ve experienced good results from the use of lower potency fish oils.

As you haven’t indicated that you have investigated the experiments and studies that Brian Peskin explains and references in his articles, here’s one of his papers that you might want to study to see what he says are contraindications of heavy doses of EPA and DHA. These involve problems such as increased incidence of colon cancer, thickening (not thinning) of arterial walls, worsened blood-sugar control, and some brain manifestations I’ll leave you to interpret the significance of:


And to balance the “Peskin tutorial” information and insure you have a chance to read as much of his findings on omega-6 and its importance to the human body, including especially the brain, as the above article provides on omega-3, here’s another paper:


In the above paper you will see that the body’s physiology has always been set up to derive EPA and DHA from the parent omega-3, yet how there is a constant 100 times as much parent omega-6 as omega-3 in the brain and nervous system, regardless of diet. This should start to tell us what damage we are doing to our bodies when we ingest already oxidized omega-6 and trans fats because these substances do not have the functionality of healthy omega-6, yet take their place, molecule by molecule, in cell after cell. There’s a hundred other interesting points to mention, just in this one paper alone, but I’ll leave it to you to investigate if you wish.


Glenn Atkisson January 19, 2011 at 9:45 am

Moss, please read Robert Jacob’s first submission above if you haven’t recently, including, but not limited to this reference:


I feel its always good to know the “other side” of what you are dosing with.


Moss Bliss January 19, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I mostly deal with people who have received diagnoses of one form or another of bipolar disorder, although I am also dealing with people with other mental “illness” diagnoses. All I can say about your list of side effects is, they are certainly no worse — and less certain — than the effects of the drugs doctors tend to give us for these “diseases”. My kidneys are already mostly gone from “treatment”. The all-knowing doctors said they could halt the deterioration (then at 20-25% function) but not reverse it, that it would never reverse. By going off all medications and using some supplements and herbs, I now have 40-45% of my kidney function, and will no longer believe what a doctor tells me unless my leg is broken.

Yeah, that’s an expression of anger, not of fact. I still go to doctors for the little lube-and-oil functions, and to check that my kidneys are still holding their own. But distrust of doctors among those who have been “treated” for “mental illness” with “psychiatric medication” (read: dangerous psychoactive drugs with horrible effects and worse side effects) is rampant, and this is the population I deal with on a regular basis.


Glenn Atkisson January 21, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Well, I haven’t been personally abused by the medical profession, but I still have the distrust, Moss. Its always nice to hear a recovery story too, that involves one’s own research and hard work, and of course besides the solution, there’s the new found self confidence that will come in handy then next time we’re challenged. Not to mention – there’s no way one will turn around and trust the allopaths after they’ve cost you part of your life. So good comes out of everything, and we might as well see the light side.

I’m thrilled you are treating bipolar with supplements and without drugs. Whatever works that causes no harm. There’s not a single patented medicine that causes no harm.

Best of health to you and thanks for sharing with me.


Wan January 23, 2011 at 5:03 am

Thanks Chris for this great article! It was very helpful for my high school mini thesis on unsaturated fats. The comments were also very interesting although I would like to point out some generalized comments on doctors. Although what happened to Moss seems pretty unfair, outraging even, and it is totally understandable that he cannot trust doctors, it would still be an overgeneralisation to say that they cannot be trusted. I guess my opinion is quite bias, as I am hoping to enter the medical field, and both of my parents are medical practitioners.
Anyway, thanks for the help, and for the interesting comments and debates!
Oh, and thank you Glenn for the links to Brian Peskin articles.. I’m hoping I can find time to read all of them !


Glenn Atkisson January 23, 2011 at 6:50 am

Wan, you are accurate to say “not trusting MD’s” is an overgeneralisation. We that use and read about alternatives have just come across so many stories of abuse at the hands of MD’s that we throw that concept around quite loosely, knowing that we all know what we are talking about: the vast majority of MD’s. That profession is apparently hopelessly caught in the downward spiral of being victimized by the drug industry as their pawns.

However, there is still a way to work, in my estimation, proudly in this day and age as an MD, and that is to continually stay abreast of research in the field and to align yourself in some way with alternative methods of treatment. Since way over 90% of research is worthless, it takes a lot of gleaning to find studies that weren’t built and edited to prove that another drug if effective, etc. One of the shortcuts to all this though is to find and read a few good alternative health writers, and to read ones with different biases. With this you will get a better overall perspective. For instance, this blog run by Chris still seems to be taken in by the giant fish oil scam, which if I had time, I could show you year by year how it developed, first by slamming saturated fats, then praising polyunsaturates, then sloughing off the omega-6 segment and focusing on omega-3. Brian Peskin has opened up the playing field again and exposed the fallacies that exist in this area, FOR THE MOMENT. But things will change.

The Weston A. Price Foundation is another place to find out the truths of the values of saturated fats, and they help dispel some of the myths of polyunsaturates, but they again are under the influence of the dairy industry, so they have their biases.

Definitely stay on your track, but be aware of what’s going on in alternative medicine and the growing dissatisfaction within the public’s mind regarding typical alopathic treatments with drugs. I can’t give you a study, but I think one, if conducted, would quite easily and clearly show that once a person changes from the reliance on mainstream medicine to some form of alternatives, they never change back. So this is a trend to follow if you consider medicine as a business.

And definitely read something off Brian Peskin’s web site at least once a week until you feel comfortable with the material. He seems to add new papers weekly. He exposes the most glaring risks to our bodies that are easily remedied by individuals, i.e. not environmental toxins and electromagnetic fields which are ubiquitous, but diet dangers that can be stopped overnight.

Best of health to you and yours.


Wan January 23, 2011 at 9:50 am

Thank you Glenn for your advice and help. I will definitely keep track of anything new and read as much as possible to have a more objective idea of what I am dealing with. I can’t wait to do medicine, but at the same time I am aware of the ‘risks’ I am taking. As you said, it can be a big business. But then, which profession isn’t nowadays? I will embark in medicine with another state of mind though. I know it’s easy to say this now, especially that I haven’t really had a taste of the profession yet, but I am very much determined to see medicine as a more ‘human’ career, than a money-making one. If the alternative methods are better, then yes. If not, stick to the good old ones! Then again the decision could be bias, but as you said, it is essential to be informed and look at the matter from different perspectives.
I also really hope the reputation of doctors will change, although, with an increase in money-minded doctors, it is not likely to do so. I hope I will bring a more positive contribution to this field, in terms of its reputation, and also in terms of its methods of dealing with health.
Thanks again and good health to you too Glenn


Glenn Atkisson January 23, 2011 at 10:53 am

Wan, I actually see the reputation of alternative MD’s changing, one at a time. The “aware” clients, a growing group, are only so eager to be able to recommend a good alternative-aware doctor, and would probably rather recommend an MD than a naturopath, all other things being equal.

I see it as important to see any career as a “human” career. For the last 4 years before retirement, I was in real estate. I had been in computer consulting before that. I believe there is an analogy between real estate and a medical practice in that in both, you can either maximize the # of clients, and therefore $, shorting each client as much as possible on your time and valuable considerations, or you can give more, treating the clients as “family” and gain more a feeling of both brotherhood and accomplishment. But this will cost you $ each day. The idea is to look for a value in what you do that is measured in other than dollars. You may find it. I did and am not dissatisfied with the outcome. Build a business that is always rewarding the client and you will have a faithful throng that will refer others, and they will all come in happy. There’s way too much awareness now regarding the negative side of drugs to allow yourself to become yet another pawn of that industry such that you have to keep hiding from the truth and hiding the truth from the clients. This is all closer to ending than the drug companies can bear to confront. They are very desperate right now. They are finding it very hard to grow their business and don’t like to see it as an empire in liquidation. But I think it is. Can’t get too much further off topic!


jpatti June 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I have some issues with WAPF overall, but… it seems a bit bizarre to claim they are in cahoots with the “dairy industry.”

That industry does not particularly want me buying raw milk and pastured butter from the tiny family farm down the road, raw cheese from the Mennonite family that delivers with my CSA, eggs from my neighbor (since I can’t raise my own anymore), and making my own yogurt so it remains raw.

Nothing I buy has a “brand” name, unless you count the name of the farm itself.

I’m pretty sure WAPF would approve of my dairy habits, yet the dairy industry would not.


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