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A FISH STORY: the food, and the oil supplements

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Mar 12, 2012

The debate over fish, and fish oil, is to me one of the most interesting ones in nutrition in its complexity. We have to ferret out, from the debate, the sophisticated marketing of the fish industry, which capitalized on emerging data 15 years ago that red meat is bad for us. (But fish is good for us, they clamored—and scrambled to provide “data” that this is so.)

Then we must evaluate the sources of fish, in a planet where virtually every waterway is highly contaminated and fish retain mercury at high levels off the coast of every continent. (Canned tuna is one of the most high-mercury foods you can find. I recommend you eliminate it from your diet.)

Then we have to look at farmed fish—even more problematic because they are fed ground-up fish pellets, made of guts and skin and bones. (Also chicken feces and genetically modified corn, soy, and canola oil.) These fish products, then, actually containconcentrated environmental pollutants.

Farmed fish is well documented to be higher in PCBs, dioxins, and other carcinogenic chemicals than wild fish. Most of the fish consumed by humans is now raised in farms. Wild “free range” fish eat plenty of toxins, too—but not concentrated in “fish pellets” like on the farms. Fish in farms are fed chemicals to make them pink rather than their natural grey color, are low in Omega 3’s due to their lack of a natural diet, and are given antibiotics at a higher rate than any other livestock!

And we have to look at the nonsense about fish oil. Does it really prevent heart disease? Everyone accepted this quickly as “settled science” mostly because a few data points were being repeated by so many doctors and so many supplement companies. But now we have 20 years of data and those who look at longitudinal trends know that fish oil has saved us from nothing.

What if a fish died and was floating in the water? Would you eat that fish’s flesh, or squeeze oil from it to eat, even 12 hours later? Of course you wouldn’t. It would be rancid. So says Dr. Brian Clement, N.M.D. and PhD, with whom I spoke in Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale. What if it sat for days, and then you deodorized and purified it, highly refined it, put it in gelatin capsules, and put it into distribution so it sat another several months before you ate it?

You’ve noticed that you burp up rancid fish oil taste for hours after you take yours? Rancid oils are carcinogens. The pharmaceutical companies that produce the vast majority of the fish-oil pills will pacify you by saying, “But we deodorize the oil.” Ah, so they use petroleum products, like coal tar, to mask the rancidity. I ask again, do you want to refine a fish-oil product and cover up the obvious signs that it is putrefied and not appropriate as food?

This is not an effective way to get Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. Especially when there are perfect plant-food sources that don’t cause you to burp up rancid nasty.

Flax, chia, and hemp seeds are fabulous sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. I recommend having all three on hand. I love sprouted flaxseed to add to green smoothies. (I know of 28 anti-cancer compounds in flax. And this product is sprouted, which increases not only fiber, but also explodes vitamin and mineral content. Flax has 7x more lignans than the next-highest source—these compounds are highly breast-cancer protective.)

You get no fiber in your rancid fish oil caps. I really don’t think it’s a good source for anyone, of Omega 3’s. Save your money and eat some good whole foods instead:  greens have Omega 3’s in small but highly bio-available amounts.

And chia, flax, and hemp are perfect green smoothie ingredients, but I eat them in lots of ways:  roll raw cookies in them or put them in baked products. I love chia drinks from the health food store (one variety of Synergy kombucha is full of it). A spoonful of chia seed at night, chewed well and swallowed, and chased with a big glass of water, will fill up your stomach and get rid of your hunger.


Posted in: Detox, Food Industry, Nutrition

29 thoughts on “A FISH STORY: the food, and the oil supplements”

Leave a Comment
  1. Anonymous says:

    Okay…I just have to ask…what about the DHA debate? 🙂

  2. You would never swim out into the middle of the ocean – dive deep down – grab a cod – resurface..swim to shore – rip out its liver – squeeze the oil and then drink it…..taking cod liver oil has got to be the grossest supplement out there. No wonder they have to put it in capsules – its soooo disgusting. It also says this planet is hiding nutrients you “need” in the most ridiculous places.

    Never underestimate the power of mass repetetive marketing to become brainwashing over logic.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi there,

    What can we do for the elderly on blood thinning medication who are told that they are not allowed to have any dark green vegetables?

    I would love to hear any good ideas.


    Anita from Sydney, Australia 🙂

  4. All I have to say is my daughter contracted RSV at 2.5 weeks old and she wheezed for a year. I tired everything (we were vegan at the time) and used essential oils, mullein tea, algae-derived DHA, and so much more. Nothing worked, not even steroids or albuterol when we broke down. We tired living in a high-humidity area (Portland), we tried a low-humidity are (Tri-Cities, WA), nothing.

    After two days of cod liver oil she stopped wheezing and hasn’t wheezed since. That’s the kicker for me!

  5. So, do you just delete compelling anecdotes if they don’t fit with your paradigm? Where did my store go?

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      krista, what store and what anecdote? I didn’t delete anything. There’s an occasional blog post I don’t accept because it’s spam, excessively self-promoting, or hostile towards someone else on the blog. sorry….??

  6. Sorry, I had posted it and checked a few days later and it wasn’t there. I assumed the worst and shouldn’t. I am sorry.

    Sorry, not “store”, but “story”. Look where my grammar goes when I’m frustrated…

    The anecdote was my daughter’s story, which was a miracle for us, we had tried everything.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Great article. I’m still a little confused, because I thought the kind of dha or epa or omega 3’s or something could most readily be found, or converted or something, in fish oil. You know, people recommend black current seed oil, borage seed oil, etc., and it seems like they’re each for different purposes?

    So if we fill our diets (limit?) with hemp, chia and flax we should cover all the bases with the omega 3 needs?

    Curious also about all the fermented cod liver oil you hear about, like the poster above. I realize you are not FOR fish oil, so I assume not fclo either. Is there a combo of your recommended oils that could have done the same thing? I guess you hear also about people healing tooth decay and regrowing enamel using fclo.

    Thank you Robin! Oh, and thanks for honesty about sugar bet! We still love you!

  8. Anonymous says:

    What about omega-zen3 for DHA ?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Fish oil being bad makes sense, what about high quality Cod Liver Oil? Especially Fermented Cod Liver Oil? This dates back to ancient history. Dr. Weston A. Price found the healthiest people in the world consumed fermented Cod Liver Oil. It can kick a cold in days, and my aunt healed my cousin of severe asthma and chronic colds with Cod Liver Oil. Plants are not immune from environmental contaminants either…our whole environment is dirty, so if the fish have it the plants have it. Of course, I agree that farmed fish are awful food sources as well as large fish that can have higher concentrations of environmental contaminants. One of your arguments against Fish Oil is that it is highly processed. Honestly, I’d feel much safer ingesting fish than Agave Nectar. I’m still perplexed that many in the Raw Foods Community can embrace something so highly processed and toxic as Agave Nectar. Agave Nectar has the same ratio of Fructose to Glucose as High Fructose Corn Syrup which can raise cholesterol among other problems. My mother, a petite healthy woman has embarked on a Raw Foods diet consuming Agave Nectar as her sweetener. She now is showing high cholesterol on blood tests, something that has never ailed her as well as something that one would not expect on a Raw Foods diet. Of course, Agave nectar isn’t necessarily promoted or consumed by all Raw Foods Dieters, but I know you recommend it as a sweetener in your Green Smoothies, which is why my mom uses it…she’s a big fan of yours. Unfortunately, my mom is one of those people that will not do her own research and will just follow the recommendations of someone she likes. I think what you’re doing for this world is great, I admire you, but if you’re going to say fish oil is bad because of the processing I wish you’d also do more research on Agave Nectar. What would be great is a video tour of a plant where it is manufactured so everyone can see once and for all whether is is truly a raw food or not.

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Vanessa, next time I go to Mexico (have been 4x in the past 2 years) I will try to find an agave plant and learn more about it first-hand. I use very little of it, very rarely, and only raw/organic. I put heavy caveats on its use now, although 4 years ago that information was not available, about sourcing issues and some of the early claims not necessarily being true. I would not say I “recommend” it as a sweetener, although I talk about it as an option but prefer stevia. I replaced agave in most of my recipes in the past year.

  10. Anonymous says:

    What about Krill oil ?

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Krill oil as a source seems better…..but I don’t trust polluted waterways (your source is likely growing it themselves though), and I don’t know the data on its effectiveness.

  11. Anonymous says:

    So is it possible to sprout flax seeds just like any other seed? I’m going to give this a try but thought you might have had some experience with this.

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Kathy, you can soak them for several hours to “sprout” them, but no, they are different because they are so mucilaginous. It will be a gummy, thick texture. They won’t be a bunch of wet, individual seeds like you get with soaked grains. So you can them dump the sticky stuff into a green smoothie. It’s just different.

  12. Hi Robyn.

    I’m wondering what your thoughts are on flax and phytoestrogens. I have a really great flax bread on my blog that we love. I like it b/c it is grain free, but recently I read on another blog that flax has a ton of phytoestrogens in it so I am concerned. The author was talking about wraps made w/ chia and flax and she recommended chia due to there being too much (3/4 cup I think) flax in the recipe. I don’t even want to think about how much flax there is in my flax bread. :-). I’d love to hear what you think.

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Adrienne, 3/4 of a cup is too much. Flax is amazing, but yes, with the phytoestrogens, 2 Tbsp. a day is good. Not a concern with chia though.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure I agree completely with what was said about fish oil. It seems like all fish and fish oil was just painted with a very broad negative brush. Sure there are some pretty nasty things going on with fish farms and our natural water ways. Are there not environmental toxins around where the flax, chia, hemp being grown and produced? Chia is being imported from thousands of miles from farms where people are underpaid and overworked. But that can be over looked because it’s not an animal product???

    I use fish oil in my family, I also use flax, hemp, and chia daily. I also use essential oils everyday for myself and my family. I also know you use essential oils. I’m trying to figure out what the difference is between extracting oil from dead fish is any different from extracting oils from dead plants? I’m not saying either is wrong I’m just trying to understand how you can preach that fish oils are revolting and unhealthy but plant oils are fine?

    Thanks for your response.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It is important to remember that when utilizing these small, hard shelled seeds that they should (dare I say MUST) be ground up to release all of the goodness. These seeds will pass through your system WHOLE if you do not.

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Hi Steven, true of flax, not true of chia. 🙂

  15. Hi Robyn,

    I agree with you about contaminated and rancid fish oil. However, not all fish oil is contaminated or rancid, as your story seems to imply. There are brands of fish oil available that are pharmaceutical grade. These have no odor, don’t taste “fishy”, and you definitely don’t have fish burps. If you’re vegan, of course flax is your best source, but high-quality fish oil can also be a great Omega 3 source for those who eat fish.

    Thanks so much for all your efforts to promote great health!!


    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Michelle, the “pharmaceutical grade” are not natural, and they are highly purified (read: refined) and deodorized. That’s why there’s no fish taste. The new NOS standard for a supplement to be whole-foods based is a great start towards getting away from so many synthetic or refined supplements. Most supplements are actually made by pharmaceutical companies. They are more than happy to do lots of things, including heat treat, and add coal tar and a dozen other toxic ingredients, to the pills. I will be blogging my report on this soon.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’d still love to hear a response to my previous post? I’m not trying to start a fight, I just like objective information. Not all nutrition is RIGHT for everyone. I like what you do and teach for the most part, I only think it was some pretty broad and mis informed info on fish/fish oil.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Great post, but: I am not convinced that fish oil is essential simply because our body does not manufacture it. Experiments last century on animals trying to prove such essentiality were debunked when the ” dha/epa deprived” animals survived nicely with a dose of b vitamins. Cosuming oils seems less natural than eating farmed fish. (Ugh to both). Ray Peat, noted biophysiologist says, polyunsaturated fats are immunosuppressive, and the n-3 antagonize the prostaglandins, so in the context of high n-6 they are slightly antiinflammatory as well as immunosuppressive—but they have their own special inflammatory effects.

  18. Anonymous says:

    My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year. We found a great urologist that treats with diet and HIFU. One of the foods David was not to eat was flax seed. I was using it in lots of things, so I talked with his doctor about why it was restricted. Flax seed and chia seeds are both high in omega 3 but they also have a lot of omega 6. Omega 6 causes inflammation within our system. The ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is 1:1, but there are many more sources of omega 6 than omega 3. Flax and chia seeds have 4 times as much omega 3 as omega 6, so I thought it would be good to take to even out the ratio. When I asked Dr. Wheeler about it he asked me a question, “Is a little bit of arsenic ok?” I replied, “Of course not.” He said ingesting omega 6 would feed the cancer. Inflamed tissue or cells are the first to turn cancerous. The more inflammation you have going on the faster the cancer will grow. So, I quit using flax and I only use chia seeds once in a while as a thickener. David’s PSA has remained consistently non detectable since the HIFU procedure and it was only 0.1 before the procedure. I feel very strongly that eliminating animal products and refined foods and foods high in omega 6 has made all the difference. My understanding about agave is the same as Vanessa stated and therefore we have quit using it also because of its inflammatory response. Christy

  19. Anonymous says:

    I’m wondering the same as a previous comment:

    “Curious also about all the fermented cod liver oil you hear about. I realize you are not FOR fish oil, so I assume not fclo either. Is there a combo of your recommended oils that could have done the same thing? I guess you hear also about people healing tooth decay and regrowing enamel using fclo.”

    My 5 year old son and I both have bad teeth and so I was debating on using fermented cod liver oil and butter oil. I read an article and all this lady changed in her son’s routine was this:

    “This included him daily consuming raw butter and honey on two pieces of toast, and supplementing with a teaspoon of fermented cod liver oil and three capsules of butter oil.”

    If this isn’t good, then what do you suggest so I don’t have to fill a cavity with amalgam?

    thank you.

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Dayna, you know you can fill a cavity with composite, right? Comfrey on the tooth can heal inflammation sometimes. But no, not a fan of cod liver oil.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Just to say that there is no such thing as fermented cod liver oil. The process is mainly putrefaction (it was also known as the ‘rotting process’), and this type of oil is darker in colour because it contains the products of putrefaction as well. Ask any decent scientist and they will tell you the same thing. The word fermented is used for marketing purposes only (sounds so much better than putrefaction or decay!).

    Believe it or not, the Vikings did not favour this type of oil, but instead preferred the more pale/yellow coloured oil that oozed out before the main process of putrefaction had actually begun.

  21. Anonymous says:

    OK…so what about flax and boys/males? Is this a non-issue? I thought it affects estrogen/hormone levels somehow and could possibly “feminize” (in some small way, but I’m not willing to go there) boys? Is that nonsense? WOULD LOVE your thoughts on this!

    And on Christy’s comment about chia and flax’s high Omega 6 (and thus inflammatory) levels? I wonder what Christy and her husband are using to get their Omega 3’s?

    THANK YOU!!!

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