Fish oil is a popular Omega-3 supplement. Unfortunately most consumers do not understand how much Omega-3 supplement is required to address the deficiency. They assume a capsule or teaspoon a day puts the check in the box and they’re good to go. They have no clue the Omega-3 deficiency is defined by its ratio to Omega-6 in the membranes of cells.
Omega-6 and Omega-3 are two families of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Being essential means bodies do not synthesize them. They are acquired from food. Thousands of peer-reviewed reports indicate that when a body’s ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 exceeds 4:1 chronic diseases such as autoimmune diseases, heart disease, mental and nervous system disorders, and rapid cancer growth become more prevalent. The ideal ratio by weight is thought to be 1:1. Yet Americans, including those taking an Omega-3 supplement, have ratios well above 10:1 because their diets are mostly foods rich in Omega-6 with very little Omega-3. That’s why small doses of Omega-3 can’t change their high ratios.
Those of us who understand EFA science are concerned enough to properly balance our EFAs with diet and fish oil supplements. But unknown to many is that too much fish oil can be hazardous to health!
Fish oil is made from the fats and/or livers of oily fish such as cod, salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. All fish oils have virtually no Omega-6 EFAs but are loaded with Omega-3 EFAs. That makes them a really good Omega-3 source, yet what most consumers don’t realize is that unrefined fish oil is also rich in fat soluble essential vitamins A, D, and E. The figures vary considerably from one oil product to another, even for the same fish. So these two examples are “ballpark” figures.
Compare those quantities in one teaspoon of fish oil to the daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Vitamin A’s RDA for adults are 700 and 900 international units (IU). The RDA of vitamin D is 600 IU for ages one to 70 years and 800 IU for people over 70 years. The RDA of vitamin E is 15mg over 14 years of age with a tolerable upper limit of 1,000 mg.
One teaspoon (4.54 g) of nearly any fish oil provides A, D, and E vitamins in excess of their RDAs. Fat soluble vitamins are stored in the body and can accumulate. If someone takes too much fish oil for too long a time, A and D can accumulate to toxic levels while E is actually depleted! Following an overdose, it can take several months to deplete vitamin excesses.
Vitamin A Toxicity
Excessive amounts of vitamin A have a toxic effect on the body, especially the liver. The tolerable upper daily limit for adults is 10,000 international units. Consuming only one tablespoon (three teaspoons) of cod liver oil a day over many weeks or months significantly increases your risk of toxicity. The symptoms are:
Vitamin D Toxicity
Vitamin D is critical for bone health, hormone regulation, immune response, blood pressure control, among other things. Vitamin D toxicity is not possible from sun exposure, although by consuming even one teaspoon per day of fish oil this vitamin can accumulate in the body to possibly toxic levels. The Institute of Medicine’s expert committee states that the maximum safe upper level of vitamin D intake for adults is 4,000 IU per day. Taking 40,000 IU per day for a couple of months or longer is considered very harmful. Symptoms of vitamin D toxicity are:
Excessive amounts of vitamin D in the body can cause calcium levels in the blood to rise. This can lead to a condition called hypercalcemia (too much calcium in your blood). Symptoms include:
Vitamin E Depletion
Fish oil is high in vitamin E but there’s a strange reaction. Some studies indicate that when people consume fish oil supplements long-term vitamin E levels gradually drop. It’s thought that maybe it takes vitamin E to absorb fish oil therefor requirements for it are greater when taking fish oil. That’s why it’s considered a good idea to take a vitamin E supplement with fish oil.
The greatest risks from fish oil are vitamin A toxicity and vitamin E depletion. But with long-term use of a tablespoon (three teaspoons) or more of fish oil, vitamin D toxicity can also become an issue. These risks do not exist when eating whole wild-caught seafood. Consequently, seafood still remains the best source for boosting Omega-3 levels. Thus the old rule of eating fish once a week may be a minimum goal. Because of fish oil’s toxicity issues, it’s probably best to limit consumption to no more than one teaspoon daily.
If our priority is to properly nourish our bodies for optimal health, taking supplements and drugs only increase the risk of failure versus eating the appropriate whole foods. My dietary goal is three pronged.
● Eat foods that are nutrient dense and diverse.
● Do not eat high glycemic foods.
● Every day eat foods that when combined the total EFAs are balanced as close to 1:1 as possible.
The best foods are the leafy green vegetables, squash such as zucchini, green beans, other selected vegetables, grass-fed meats, Omega-3 meats, and wild caught seafood. There’s no doubt that in our day and age eating properly is a challenge which is primarily why chronic diseases are ubiquitous. Everyone is hooked on the traditional fare of Omega-6 rich foods such as grain (cereals, bread, pasta, pastries), high glycemic fruit, sugars, grain-fed meats, nuts, seeds, and deep-fat fried goodies.
It takes real personal commitment to actually eat a healthy diet. In spite of all the heavy handed marketing, it doesn’t look like there are any safe magic bullets. The safest surest path is a diet that follows the three-pronged goals above.
To your health.
Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.
Don’t miss these links for additional reading:
Symptoms of hypervitaminosis A from Healthline Media
What is hypervitaminosis D? from Healthline Media
Does Fish Oil Interfere with Vitamin D? by Sirah Dubois on Livestrong.com
How Much Vitamin D is Too Much? The Surprising Truth by Adda Bjarnadottir, MS
Food Analysis by Ted Slanker