By Dr. Nicole Sundene
Scottsdale Naturopathic Doctor
"Should I take Fish Oil or Flax Oil?"
One of the greatest flaws in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is a lack of omega-3 fatty acids.
Repleting this deficiency typically improves memory and mental functioning as well as corrects a gamut of other annoying health problems. As a naughty Norwegian that hates fish I realized in Naturopathic school that many of my health problems: Dry skin, depression, chapped lips, ADHD, and tendency to build up ear wax were all from my aversion to anything fishy flavored and therefore I was deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. I also learned that some people lack the genes needed to convert omega-3's from plant sources to the active form found in fish and those people are.... Scandinavians and similar cultures that grew up on a high fish dependent diet.
The reason for this is that these essential oils are necessary for proper brain functioning, immune function, hormonal balance and skin integrity as they are the necessary building blocks for the cellular membrane of every single cell in our body. Wow just ONE thing for all SIXTY TRILLION cells in your body!
This must be pretty important then…
Signs of omega-3 deficiency are memory loss, ADHD behavior, depression, dry skin, calluses on the heels, tendency to produce excess ear wax, rashes, arthritis and inflammation. Omega-3′s also appear to decrease the incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease as well as reduce the severity of psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic complications. Substantial evidence also supports the use of fish oil for reduction of blood pressure, clotting, arrhythmias as well as hardening of the arteries. These oils are especially fundamental to the nervous system as they “insulate” each nerve fiber and speed it’s conductive ability. Electrical signals cannot travel rapidly in our bodies without the myelin sheath formed from these good fats.
A nervous system deficient in omega-3′s is as about as effective as a lamp with a frayed cord.
For most patients I just typically go straight for the fish oil. Ultimately I prefer to use plant foods over animal foods whenever possible for environmental purposes, however, fish oil is the rare exception to this rule. People of Northern European descent especially seem to have a problem converting the omega-3 fats found in plants like flax and walnut as the diet of their ancestors was heavily reliant on cold water fish. Many people are also deficient in magnesium and B vitamins that along with zinc play a key role in the biochemical process of converting plant oils like flax to the form the body can use. Fish oil conveniently comes already converted to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) the key players in brain function, inflammation, and disease prevention.
Adding a couple of teaspoons of fish oil in to your daily routine is as fundamental as a multi-vitamin in my opinion. Please note that if you are pregnant you should NOT use cod liver oil because the high vitamin A content can lead to birth defects. Flax oil or a non fish liver oil without any vitamin A would be the better option in this case, especially because omega-3′s have been shown to reduce the risk of pre-term labor, so including them safely in the diet is important for a healthy pregnancy. Always check with your OB/GYN before taking any supplements. Because of the anti-coagulant properties, fish oil should also not be used by those with bleeding disorders or taking blood thinning medications. But with what is going on right now with "The virus" causing blood clots I want all my patients on 3000mg of fish oil every single day. Preventing blood clots is critical right now.
Please check with me or your own Naturopathic Doctor before making any changes to your health care routine.
One of the cheapest ways to add omega-3 oils in to your diet is to simply purchase a big bag of flaxseeds and a cheap coffee grinder used solely for grinding them.
Flax seeds are dirt cheap, full of omega-3′s, protein and fiber (1 Tbl=2 grams of fiber). They are also great for treating menopausal symptoms as the lignans have a phytoestrogenic effects that are beneficial for patients with menopause that work synergistically with the omega-3 oils to balance hormones. Which is why as a Holistic Female Hormone Doctor I am constantly nagging my patients to eat their flaxseeds!
You can mix three tablespoons of ground flax seeds with applesauce and enjoy them an hour before bed to also stabilize your blood sugar for a good night’s sleep. Now flax oil is extremely delicate so please grind the seeds right before you add them to smoothies, salads, yogurt, applesauce, soups and the like. Flax should never be cooked above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use flax seed oil as a salad dressing by adding equal parts of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, along with your favorite seasonings.
So enough blah blah blah…the take home message is that you can easily add ground flax seeds to your diet as a cheap healthy preventative measure as well as eat more Alaskan wild salmon (not farm raised salmon as it is high in PCB’s aka toxins. Current lists of safe fish for consumption are available at EWG.org. For those with chronic disease or neurological disorders, fish oil is most likely the better choice.
Whatever you do, don’t waste your time with supplements that claim they have the perfect balance of “Omega-6 and Omega-9″ blended with the Omega-3′s, as those oils are already widely available in most of the vegetable oils, raw nuts and seeds that we consume… so you are just wasting your money by taking those in a supplement. They are cheaper oils that just make the products more affordable but defeat the purpose in my opinion if you are already eating fat in your diet. I am a big fan of Pure Encapsulations EPA/DHA concentrate you can buy via Fullscript or Carlson Lemon Flavored Cod Liver Oil (No affiliation but they should certainly send me a check 😉 Be sure to use a high quality fish oil that has passed independent laboratory testing for mercury content, PCB’s, dioxins and spoilage.
To avoid burping up fish oil all day take it immediately before eating, never on an empty stomach. If that doesn’t work, you can also keep the capsules in the freezer so that they will stay intact through the stomach until they reach their absorption destination in the small bowel.
Fish oil should be stored in the fridge after opening, or at least a dark cupboard.
Nobody shall have dry skin or poor memory under my watch as your Naturopathic Doctor!
Thank you for sending this question in please mail your questions about Naturopathic Medicine to me on a post card to my clinic address in Scottsdale below as I DO LOVE to hear from my readers and I LOVE to get something in the mail that is not a bill! Thank you for your Naturopathic Questions, if it is too big to fit on a post card then you need to pop on over to my SCHEDULE page and simply give yourself the gift of an appointment!
Dr. Nicole Sundene, NMD
Dr. Sundene is a Naturopathic Doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is considered a Female Hormone Expert in Women's Health and Bioidentical Hormones. She specializes in Holistic Women's Health for Menopause, Thyroid, Hashimotos, PMS, Perimenopause, Autoimmune, Postpartum, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, Food Allergies, Digestion, Dermatology , Acne, Psoriasis, Eczema and Adrenal Hormonal Conditions. In 1999 she began working for a Hormone Doctor prior to starting Naturopathic Medical School. With over 22 years of experience in both Prescription and Natural women's health and hormones she presents to women the best integrated health solutions for their Chronic Disease. She has been an Herbalist for over 27 years and enjoys teaching women how to use herbs to balance their hormones, nutrition and optimize their health. Dr. Sundene relies on blood testing for her hormone metrics. The hormone testing is covered per the patient's insurance plan and conducted at certain points in the woman's menstrual cycle. To learn more about Hormone Testing for Women Visit: Bioidentical Hormones. Follow Dr. Sundene on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for more tips on Women's Health, Female Hormones and Naturopathy!