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Something fishy with Fish Oils?: Part 1

Posted on September 23rd, 2010 by Alf | Print

Before beginning this post we would like to thank everyone who has written to us with comments on both the blogs and the website. It is wonderful to receive such positive feedback and words of encouragement. And yes, we do intend to keep going as we’ve begun.

For many years, my research interest was in fats and oils. While both challenging and academically interesting, it wasn’t a riveting dinner party conversation! Later, this interest took me in other directions, specifically the study of genetic diseases involving fats. Just after finishing my Ph.D at London University, I was working in a field that really was a dinner party conversation piece – the fats in spermatozoa, the male sex cells in semen. (Alf must go to different dinner parties than I do! – Stephen).

Most people would be surprised that sperm are loaded with some quite unusual fats. One day I returned from a long lunch to discover I had forgotten to turn off the analytical machine I was using at the time (a gas chromatograph for those who want to know). I was amazed to find a huge unknown peak on the trace. I initially thought this peak must have been a contaminant – this is what scientists often think when they get something unexpected. However it soon became clear it wasn’t a contaminant as the huge peak was there every time I ran the sample. I eventually showed the “contaminant” was a fat called DHA, short for docosahexaenoic acid or 22:6, n-3. It turned out this DHA was by far the major fat in sperm. At the time, no one knew why sperm had such high levels of this fat. We still do not know.

We now know DHA is not just in sperm but is present in many of our organs. It is particularly rich in two parts of the body: The retina in our eyes and our brain. We still don’t know why our brain and retina need such large amounts of DHA but we do know there must be a very good reason. We also know that fish contain very high levels of DHA and another fat, EPA, short for eicosapentaenoic acid or 20:5, n-3. Chemists refer to these fish fats as “Omega-3 fats” to distinguish them from the “Omega-6 fats” which are found in animal fats and vegetable oils. Under normal circumstances, our bodies can make both EPA and DHA, provided we have a normal healthy diet that contains the necessary precursors and raw materials.

Omega-3 fats are often called the “good” fats in the popular press and have become big business. They seem to be almost everywhere. They are present in aquaculture, functional foods and supplements and are added to a whole host of foods including bread, butter, margarine and infant formulas to name just a few. And it seems almost everyone is taking fish oil supplements. With my long background in fats and a naturally questioning nature, I began to wonder about some of the claims being made for fish oils on the internet and in the popular press.

How could the same supplement:
• Assist brain and retinal development in babies;
• Help the symptoms of arthritis, cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and other inflammatory conditions;
• Improve your IQ;
• Help depression, bipolar disease and schizophrenia; and
• Prevent heart disease and arrhythmia?

If all the reported claims for fish oils were true, one wonders how we ever survived without them! The alternative is, of course, that maybe some of the claims are over stated or hype and urban myth, possibly driven by people with a vested interest in selling fish oils. It seems I’m not alone in asking these questions. A 2010 article in New Scientist on fish oils was titled “The Emperor’s New Pills” (1).

While no one chemical or supplement can do everything, these fats must have some key role to play otherwise they would not be present in the organs they are and in the quantities they are. So where does the truth lie? How does the discerning consumer sort fact from fiction? How do they know what to buy for themselves and their loved ones? We thought we’d help: Which is why Promoting Good Health has published a eBook titled “Fish Oils: Everything You Want To Know”. In this eBook we explain in layman terms what fish oils are, where they come from, how they are made and what claims have been made for them. We then look at the latest scientific research to determine which of these claims have hard evidence to back them up. With the help of “Fish Oils: Everything You Want To Know” you can make sensible decisions about how to look after the your health and the health of your loved ones. And that’s what its all about, isn’t it? We hope you find it useful.

Until next time, stay happy and healthy.

(1) O’Connell S (2010) “Omega-3: The emperor’s new pills.” New Scientist, 206(2760), 32-34.


  1. Posted by G Scott at 10:58 am on February 28th, 2011

    I am resisting ebooks.

    How else can I find out about Melrose fish oil sold at RAH?

    My observations since September when I started on Melrose fish oil are:
    1 Frequent gut cramps after taking it – usually lasting an hour- so I reduced the dose to 10ml which helped but not prevented.
    2 Skin sunspots & keratoses have paled.
    3 No severe night time leg cramps.
    Apart from the fish oil all things have been much the same except that we have had a cool summer.

  2. Posted by Stephen Hardy at 1:17 pm on March 9th, 2011

    Dear G. Scott,

    Not being medical practitioners we cannot give specific medical advice or guidance, for legal reasons. So if you are after specific medical advice, you will need to consult a qualified health care professional. If however you are after information on the constituents of the Melrose fish oil formulations, then you will find that information on the Melrose website: http://www.melrosehealth.com.au.

    I hope this helps answer your questions.


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