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Fish Oil: Omega-3 - Something Fishy?

Lynne Brown
BSc Hons, HDE, Dip Clin Nutr

Since first writing about the benefits of Omega-3 fish oil and the importance of taking only a good quality fish oil, I have been asked on numerous occasions for  my opinion on salmon oil capsules. I decided to answer this by relaying the outcome of a Norwegian study on oil from farmed salmon which is unfortunately from where most of our salmon oils are derived.

The reason for the study

In 2005, researchers at The Norwegian School of Veterinary Science in Oslo set out to determine what impact the typical farmed-salmon feed regimen—which is high in grains and plant oils—might have on cardiovascular risk markers in consumers. The reason these vets sought an answer to this cardiac health question they said was, “Because of the shortness of marine resources, vegetable oils are increasingly used in fish farming.”  The results, albeit pretty predictable, were not pretty.

How the study worked

The Norwegian vets enrolled 60 patients with coronary heart disease (CHD), and assigned them, randomly, to one of three groups, each of which consumed about 700 gm of farmed Atlantic salmon per week for six weeks. Each group ate salmon given a different feed, distinguished only by its unique oil profile:

  • “FO” salmon feed featured 100 percent fish oil, which is very high in long-chain “marine” omega-3s
  • “CO” salmon feed featured 100 percent canola oil, which is high in omega-6s and low in the short-chain, less beneficial type of omega-3s
  • “FO/CO” salmon feed, featuring a 50/50 mix of fish and canola oil

To determine the effect of these differing salmon-feed regimens on salmon-consumers’ risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the researchers tested all of the participants’ blood for three key indicators of cardiovascular risk—fatty acid profile, cholesterol profile, and markers of vascular inflammation—before and after the six-week study period.

What the fat-detectives discovered

The before-and-after tests of participants’ blood showed significant differences between the groups, especially when it came to their blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and the ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3s to pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
Participants who ate the farmed salmon fed only fish oil enjoyed markedly higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a higher (hence, more desirable) ratio of omega-3s to omega-6 fatty acids. The fish-oil-only group also displayed significant reductions in blood levels of triglycerides (fats).


Thanks to these findings, it is clear that the diets fed typical farmed salmon put a real dent in the cardio-prevention potential of domesticated fish. And as the Norwegian vets noted, the scarcity and cost of fishmeal and fish oil mean that this situation isn’t likely to change. It seems this news comes under the category, “questions they wish they’d never asked’!
The results would have given farmed salmon consumers an unpleasant surprise, if they’d heard about them. However it appears the results of this veterinary science investigation escaped public notice.

Choosing your Omega-3 supplement

When it comes to selecting your Omega-3 fish oil supplement resolve not to sell your health to the lowest bidder. A cheap capsule is unlikely to contain pharmaceutical grade, molecularly distilled oil, guaranteed free of mercury, PCBs, dioxins and other contaminants. A cheap capsule is also likely to contain oil from farmed salmon or otherwise tuna, a very large fish likely to contain higher levels of contaminants.  The “See Yourself Well” Omega-3 capsules that I import from Canada contain molecularly distilled oils from wild, deep water Pacific Ocean anchovies tested on site for contamination compliance.

Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional.  All serious disease needs a physician.

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