Fish oil gets another nod

A study about a link between violence and a deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids adds more evidence that our french fry- and salad dressing-laden diet harms more than our figures. In a way, it “short-circuits” our brains.

This is not a new idea; some researchers have been warning for decades that the dramatic shift in the past century in the types of oil we eat may have dire consequences. In short, we all eat way more omega 6s (found in plant oils such as soy, corn and safflower) and way too little omega 3s (found in fish, flaxseed, walnuts and greens). These essential fatty acids play a prime role in brain development.

While the number of well-designed studies is relatively small and results are mixed, fairly good evidence indicates that supplementation with omega 3s (particularly the type found in fish oils) can help alleviate the symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder, and reduce aggression.

The idea that omega 3s can make your kid smarter, stave off cancer or improve your sex life is, at this point, mainly a pleasant fantasy perpetuated by people who sell fish oil supplements. Still, it probably won’t hurt to take fish oil supplements, and it may help.

Fish oil is safe—safer in many cases than fish, which can be contaminated with mercury and PCBs. Fish oil supplements tested by Consumer Lab contained no detectable levels of mercury, PCBs or other contaminants. Taking a lot of fish oil could have side effects, ranging from the minor (fishy belching) to more serious (bleeding too much, if you are on other anticoagulants).

You needn’t spend a fortune on fish oil supplements. Nearly all the fish oil products Consumer Lab tested were pure and contained the amounts of fatty acids advertised. I usually buy fish oil capsules at Costco. I like the enteric-coated ones–less fishy burping.