Over the years there has been a lot of hype about the health benefits of taking omega-3 fatty acids (particularly flax seed and fish oil). And rightfully so, as they are essential and can be difficult to get in adequate amounts from diet alone. Additionally, they can often directly address certain health conditions.
That said, when taking flax seed or fish oil from supplements, there are several things that need to be taken into consideration.
1) Freshness: Both flax seed and fish oil are quite volatile and can go rancid (or oxidize) very easily. Consuming rancid fats is equivalent to directly consuming harmful free radicals that can wreak havoc on the cells in your body. Free radicals have been implicated as contributing to many degenerative diseases. To understand more on free radicals and oxidation, read my article on the aging process. As a result of this, it’s important to make sure that the oil you are consuming has not been sitting on a shelf for very long. Many times the label will say when the product was manufactured. You should be fine if it was manufactured within three months from when you purchase it. Keep in mind that flax seed oil is more unstable and likely to go rancid much quicker than fish oil. Also, some manufacturers will add antioxidants to the product to help keep it from oxidizing and extend the shelf life – whether that shelf is in the store or your home. By the way, it’s best to keep any oil refrigerated at home. P.S.: Never heat or cook with flax oil. And generally, the only oils I recommend people cook with are olive and coconut, as they have high “smoke points” and will likely remain stable when heated to reasonable cooking temperatures.
2) Antioxidant levels in your body: You can consume the freshest of any essential fatty acid, but if you don’t have enough antioxidants in your bloodstream, the fat can actually go rancid inside your body. Again, this will create an excessive amount of free radicals and cause more harm than good. Living in today’s industrialized world contributes plenty to our free radical burden, so make sure you have enough antioxidants anyway; but especially if you are supplementing with essential fatty acids. You can obtain these through your diet from foods such as: berries, pomegranates, curcumin (the spice curry is made from), rosemary, 100% raw cacao (or chocolate), green tea and most fruits and vegetables in smaller amounts, among other sources. Additionally, you can take a broad-spectrum anti-oxidant supplement.
3) Source: If you are (or plan on) taking fish oil, be sure it comes from a reputable manufacturer. Otherwise, it’s quite likely that you’ll be consuming harmful chemicals (known as PCB’s) and the toxic metal mercury which unfortunately have made their way into the oceans and rivers, and ultimately fish.
I have found many over-the-counter brands that were more harmful than helpful to my patients. I’m not saying that all brands bought in stores are contaminated or rancid; just be careful. I determine how good an oil is for my patients based on specialized muscle testing techniques, palpatory pain thresholds and range of motion testing.
Dr. Robert D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Applied Kinesiology