Should you reconsider fish oil supplements?
I'd like to address a recent article regarding fish oil supplements that I received via e-mail from a popular source for natural pet food, raw feeding and wellness advice that is referred to by many of our customers, clients and other pet enthusiasts. I myself am a huge fan of this particular magazine for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that they have educated an entire generation of pet owners and even veterinarians on natural feeding and supplementation – an accomplishment that deserves respect. However, in regards to this particular article I have to take a stand against it.
While I do not usually react to public opinion or the opinions of other industry professionals - this one bothered me quite a bit. The article recommended dumping fish oil altogether due to the potential for harmful effects while dismissing the profound benefits of the supplement. The article instead advocates for feeding a phytoplankton supplement that is offered for sale through their website, which should be an automatic red flag for any consumer.
As I kept reading I balked at the apparent suggestion that the average pet owner was unable to properly supplement and therefore should just forget it completely. The average customer and client of ours is not only capable, but more than willing to take the necessary steps to provide the proper type of fish oil. They also take proper storage precautions and supplement appropriately.
Let me address the following:
ALL FISH OIL IS NOT CREATED EQUAL, period.
No fish oil at all is preferable to rancid fish oil. This is an absolute fact. However, it is possible to supplement with good quality fish oil that will provide many benefits to your dogs and cats.
I learned a great deal while working several years in the pharmaceutical industry - we all have to start somewhere right? In clinical trials for a variety of pharmaceutical agents the supplementation of fish oil would be recommended depending on a variety of factors. Within these trials, often every aspect of the subject’s life was controlled – activity, diet, medications, supplements and even brands of these supplements. There was often only ONE brand allowed within these trials. Back then, I never questioned this merely because I never really knew that something so ‘small’ mattered.
Boy, was I wrong. Not until I began working in the pet food industry did I truly understand the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA) and realize the fragility of these oils. While I will not name brands here, I can tell you that there ARE brands that manufacture unadulterated fish oil that is pure, non-oxidized and beneficial to many species. You can find them by doing some homework or by coming in to discuss the product further so that we can help you determine what is best for you and for your pet.
This article is absolutely correct in saying that Omega-3 fatty acids are volatile since they are unstable once exposed to oxygen. Upon exposure these fats become rancid and therefore damaging to nearly every process within the body. This is the reason why we do not recommend looking for Omega-3 (or 6) supplementation from any food source. Once added to food these oils are exposed to various temperatures throughout the cooking and packaging process. In tandem with oxidation, this causes them to become rancid before they even hit the shelf. However, these oils can be supplemented safely and provide nearly unlimited benefit if properly handled.
A little-known fact is that many fish oils that are manufactured for human consumption fail quality control testing, often due to heavy metal toxicity or rancidity. These failures are then repackaged for pets instead of being discarded. This is where fish oil, particularly as a pet supplement, can catch a bad reputation.
Rancid Omega-3’s will accelerate cancer cell growth and reproduction, increase inflammation in pets with diseases such as arthritis, and even exacerbate allergy-like symptoms – just to name a few negative effects. However, fresh, non-oxidized fish oils and Omega-3’s will provide relief to ailing pets and may even reduce or slow cancer cell growth and reproduction, reduce inflammation in pets and help to curb pain and discomfort.
Yes, the average fish oil supplement, human or pet, will be oxidized before you even purchase it. If you know me you have undoubtedly heard me say this. If you have ever opened a bottle or package of fish oil and noticed a strong or off-putting fishy smell, it is rancid. If you have ever taken fish oil supplements yourself and have had fishy burps or indigestion – it is rancid fish oil.
Fish oil should never be packaged in plastic, as plastic will accelerate the oxidation of fish oil and leech chemicals into the fish oil causing another variety of problems. In addition, plastic containers often come with a ‘convenient’ pump which does not provide an oxygen tight seal, allowing for even faster oxidation.
Many companies use factory farmed fish, which becomes a valid concern since intensively farmed fish contain much greater levels of toxicity than wild or line caught fish. Since toxins, especially heavy metals, are stored within fat – these should be avoided at all costs. Any reputable company will provide results for toxicology testing for each batch of fish oils manufactured – but we’ll discuss this more in a moment.
A dirty secret that Big Pharma hopes you never figure out is that most of their fish oil (especially the pet oils) are from fish caught off the coast of South America, predominantly Chile. This is a problem considering the toxic waters off the coast of South America, radiation from Fukushima, and the lack of adequate facilities to manufacture fish oil. As a rule of thumb, fish oil should always be manufactured from cold water fish such as anchovy and/or sardine – both of which are not found in these areas.
Pollution and other environmental factors are a concern when considering fish oil. However, there are companies that do manufacture fish oil with environmental responsibility in mind. Look for companies that use sustainable sources of fish, eco-friendly packaging, and those that seek to reduce their carbon footprint though LEED Certifications, green certifications, and the Friend of the Sea certification.
The bottom line is that there are companies that provide an extremely high quality, non-oxidized and safe fish oil for pets. Omega-3’s are beneficial to countless processes within the body and provide relief to many pets suffering from various disease. Let’s not forget that EPA and DHA are vital to proper development of brains in puppies as well as keeping our senior pets’ cognitive function at its best. Removing this supplement and relying on just the food is not a good idea and therefore not my recommendation.
Phytoplankton is a great source of many of these Omega-3’s and does provide additional antioxidant properties that help prevent oxidation. However, many of these supplements are not created equal and many of the same concerns do apply. Any marine supplement will not be exempt from oxidation or contamination and I feel that this article in question leaves this aspect out.
Better yet – rather than picking a side, my recommendation would instead be to rotate high-quality supplementation of both options. After all, every single animal is different as is every human and they each require something slightly different from the next. Some animals will do great with high quality fish oil, and others will do better on phytoplankton. Always take the time to observe your pet and introduce new supplements gradually to gauge your pet’s reaction. Only then will you know what is best.
As always, we are here to help you if you have questions or would like some guidance.
Until next time……