Fishy Business: 5 Omega-3 Myths You Should Stop Believing Now!
- Myth 1 - Taking too much fish oil supplements can cause bleeding
- Myth 2 - Just eating fish occasionally fulfils all omega-3 needs
- Myth 3 - Flaxseed oil, rich in ALA, is superior to fish oil containing DHA and EPA
- Myth 4 - Testing fish oil purity with the "toothpick poke test" is effective
- Myth 5 - Pure fish oil should be able to dissolve Styrofoam
People spend a lot of money every year on health and fitness products, hoping to get healthier and fitter. But, sometimes this money ends up going to companies that aren't honest about what their products can do, and that's not fair to you. It can waste your money, and time, and even affect your health.
If you're thinking of buying fish oil, be wary of any individuals or brands purporting these popular social media myths and fake science.
Myth 1: Taking too much fish oil supplements can cause bleeding
Fact: Standard amounts of fish oil do not thin the blood. A meta-analysis of eight clinical studies that looked at fish oil dosages ranging from 0.5g to 10g of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA+DHA) showed that fish oil doesn’t thin blood.
Both the USA’s FDA and European Food Safety Authority determined that regularly taking EPA and DHA supplements in total daily amounts of up to approximately 5 grams is considered safe. It is observed that such intake levels don't lead to issues with bleeding, nor do they impact immune response, blood sugar regulation, or lipid oxidation processes.
How much fish oil may thin blood?
Some studies indicate that blood-thinning effects might be observed by consuming more than 10g of EPA + DHA.
The typical amount of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA + DHA) found in fish oil supplements ranges from 0.1 to 1g.
So, saying fish oil thins your blood is an exaggeration. It's like saying drinking a lot of water can be deadly; just like with anything, too much of something is usually not good. And yes, drinking too much water can kill you literally from water toxicity.
Why does this myth exist?
This misconception dates back to the 1970s, arising from observations that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, can interact with platelets —the components in blood that help with clotting.
Rather than thinning the blood, fish oil may contribute to reducing the formation of blood clots. It does this not by altering the blood's thickness, but by reducing the stickiness of blood, thereby helping prevent clot formation.
What are blood thinners and what do they do?
So, if fish oil isn’t a blood thinner, then you might be curious about what qualifies as a blood thinner. Medications classified as blood thinners are specifically designed to inhibit the formation of blood clots. While they don't dissolve existing clots, they can prevent them from enlarging. Blood clots pose serious risks, as unchecked, they can result in conditions like strokes and heart attacks.
There are two types of blood thinners available namely:
1. Anticoagulants – E.g warfarin or heparin, slow down your body’s blood clotting process.
2. Antiplatelets – E.g aspirin or clopidogrel, keep your platelets from clumping together and creating new clots.
Can I take omega-3 supplements and blood thinners at the same time?
If you’re currently taking blood-thinning medication or any form of medication at all, you should ALWAYS consult your doctor before you take any new health supplements, including fish oil.
Why is this important? Some medications and supplements, even though they are not blood thinners by themselves, have the potential to alter the way your blood-thinning drugs work. Examples include the following:
- Fish oil
- Some antidepressants
- Certain anti-inflammatory drugs
- Some herbal supplements
- Cranberry juice
- Vitamin K
Myth 2: Just eating fish occasionally fulfils all omega-3 needs
Fact: To ensure sufficiency, the American Heart Association recommends that healthy individuals consume fish at least twice a week. It is important to note that omega-3 levels in farmed fish are often lower compared to those caught in the wild, and the frying process can reduce the benefits of fish oil.
For individuals with preexisting conditions, a higher omega-3 intake may be necessary as seen from the chart below, and the surest way to achieve the recommended levels is through omega-3 fish oil supplements.
Myth 3: Flaxseed oil, rich in ALA, is superior to fish oil containing DHA and EPA
Fact : Flaxseed oil is indeed beneficial, but it's not a complete substitute for omega-3 fish oil. This is because flaxseed oil doesn’t significantly boost DHA levels, a vital fatty acid. Contrary to some claims, the body's ability to convert ALA in flaxseed oil to DHA is minimal and not sufficient to meet the body’s requirements, owing to the more complex structure of the DHA molecule compared to ALA.
For instance, EPA, with its 20 carbon molecules and 5 double bonds, is less complex than DHA. Hence, converting EPA to DHA is challenging for the body, as it involves adding extra carbon bonds and a double bond. Conversely, converting DHA to EPA is more straightforward. This is because removing molecular components is generally simpler than adding new ones.
Adding to the complexity, ALA has fewer carbon molecules than EPA, with just 18. Therefore, for the body to use ALA effectively, it would first have to convert ALA to EPA, then to DHA - a process that's not typically efficient.
In conclusion, both flaxseed oil and fish oil have individual benefits, however, fish oil could be more beneficial in common areas of wellness, including cardiovascular health and reducing inflammation.
Fact: Contrary to a strange claim made by some marketers, the "toothpick poke test" is not a reliable method to check for contaminants in fish oil. This test involves piercing fish oil capsules, extracting their contents into a small container like a thimble, and then freezing it. The idea is if a toothpick can pierce the frozen oil, it’s not contaminated.
However, the freezing point of fish oil does not correlate with its purity. True contamination levels require advanced lab analysis, often measuring contaminants in extremely small quantities.
Myth 5: Pure fish oil should be able to dissolve Styrofoam
Fact: This is another misleading marketing tactic spread via a YouTube video since 2013 and resurfaced on TikTok recently. It's an eye-catching trick, but scientists say it's not the best way to judge a health product like fish oil.
Here's the simple science: all oils, including the ones we eat, can make Styrofoam break down. This isn't dangerous or a sign of bad quality; it's just what happens when these two materials meet. Think of it like salt melting ice—it's just what salt does.
By its nature, polystyrene dissolves in some long-chain fatty acids found in natural fats and oils. This is not even a chemical reaction: just like sugar dissolves in water, polystyrene happens to dissolve in some types of fatty acids. And highly purified concentrated Omega-3 fish oils are one of the things that dissolve polystyrene. USANA
Why do some fish oils dissolve Styrofoam faster and some others slower?
There are two forms of Fish Oil Omega-3 fatty acids which are triglycerides (TG) and ethyl esters (EE). TG forms of fish oil take longer to react with Styrofoam than EE forms of fish oil. Both are beneficial and are similar to each other in stability, efficacy and absorption.
In short, the claim that the TG form is, in any clinically significant way, more advantageous or beneficial than the EE form is not supported by credible science at this time. The EE form has been used in the majority of cardiovascular-related clinical trials showing the benefit of omega-3s and is the choice for the National Eye Institute’s AREDS 2 trial now in progress. The EE form enjoys a strong safety profile when taken as directed, and a more highly concentrated, prescription EE product is approved by the FDA. Science-based health
You may also be interested to see Debunking Tiktok Myths: Nano Singapore Confronts “Fake Science” on Fish Oil Efficacy and Safety
All the content on this blog, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, are solely to provide information only. Any information/statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and should NOT be a substitute for health and medical advice that can be provided by your own physician/medical doctor. We at Nano Singapore Shop, encourage you to consult a doctor before making any health or diet changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition.