Chances are you have already been advised to add fish oil supplements to your diet because of their multiple benefits to your health. From heart-health benefits to immunity boost and to helping with clinical depression, fish oil supplements are considered to have quite a wide range of action on our over-all well-being.
The reason why fish oil is so praised by so many is because it is reach in Omega 3 fatty acids. Our bodies do not produce this substance by themselves and it is not only recommended, but essential for our health to consume products that contain fatty acids. In fact, the real health benefits mainly come from two derived substances which are eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, or EPA and DHA. These acids are the ones fighting with high cholesterol, obesity, immune disorders, clinical depression, inflammation, and so on. And, because fish are a rich source of fatty acids and fish oil was easy to extract and encapsulate in the form of supplements, it is obvious why it has gain so much popularity during the last years.
However, people have started having some legitimate doubts regarding fish oil and its possible side effects. Don’t get this wrong, nobody is questioning the omega 3 fatty acids benefits, but there are concerns that the fish oil might be contaminated with harmful substances. The sad truth is that nowadays ocean waters are far from clean and pure. The main source of contamination is industrial: various factories, power plants or waste incinerators that release airborne mercury. The mercury falls onto the grounds and contaminates it as well as the water. Then, it is converted in methylmercury by different species of bacteria and fungi, which is an even more dangerous form of this heavy metal. Fish swim in polluted waters and absorb quite high quantities of these products. You may think that the methylmercury quantities found in fish can be neglected, but here are the facts: there have been found levels of 2.2 milligrams of methylmercury per kilogram of fish, whereas the maximum quantity of mercury recommended and accepted is 1 milligram per kilogram.
Why is this so dangerous for us? Well, if fish accumulate all this mercury, it is only logical to think that the same mercury is found in fish oil too. And as we ingest it, we ingest the heavy metal as well. The dangerous part is that our bodies cannot metabolize and eliminate heavy metals, but accumulate them. So, the more contaminated fish products we consume, the higher the levels of mercury in our bodies. Long term exposure to high levels of heavy metals, especially to methylmercury, can lead to disturbed vision and hearing, muscle weakness and lack of coordination, not to mention the effects it can have on young children’s motor, psychical and social skills development.
And there is more! So far, we only tackled the problem of mercury in fish oil and fish products in general. The even sadder truth is that this is not the only substance that can harm us. Ocean waters’ pollution does not stop at mercury. There is a wide range of heavy metals that somehow get into fish’ systems, like lead, arsenic or cadmium. Just perform a quick internet search and you can find numerous studies which have measured the levels of heavy metals in fish. And the story doesn’t stop here either. There is a lot of plastic waste that pollutes our waters and either by accident or because they consider it to be food, fish get to ingest little pieces of plastic. And these little pieces of plastic degenerate and release toxins, carcinogens and the most feared dioxins and PCBs. Over time, the last ones become highly carcinogenic even at low levels of exposure. Fish accumulate all these dangerous ‘ingredients’, so by ingesting fish products, we ingest the contaminants too.
To be continued!