A Medical Student Blog

Unofficial thoughts on medicine and medical school

What fish and what fish oil should I eat?

Dear All, 

Again, apologies for taking so long to update the blog.  Right now, we’re in the midst of finals week, preparing for dermatology, rheumatology, orthopedics, respiratory and cardiovascular pathophysiology.  It’s going to be a fun week of studying in the snow!  (There’s a snow storm in Boston right now).   

Going back to the fish story and omega-3’s — apparently it’s a lot more complicated than what I originally anticipated.  There are two extreme views on fish.  One side, argued by many nutrition professors, is that fish is really good because of the omega-3’s, and the more you eat, the better for your heart and brain, and the better you feel, so eat your fish at every meal! (Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the gist).  Another side, argued by environmentally-oriented scientists, and a few nutrition professors like Marion Nestle, is that fish is for the most part, a dangerous food.  Big fish are loaded with mercury and all farmed fish—big and small—are loaded with PCBs and dioxin.  So unless you can buy fresh wild coho salmon that costs 15 dollars per pound at Whole Foods, or unless you live in Alaska – you should pretty much just forget about seafood.   

Huge fights have erupted between both sides – nasty language thrown about back and forth, words that you thought would only be in political campaigns.  One side has said that telling people fish is dangerous is equivalent to causing the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.  The other side retorted by saying that these “scurrilous attacks” don’t help anybody and that instead of blaming the fish truth-tellers, the real problem is the industrial polluter who poisons our earth. 

There have even been serious conflict of interest issues, with the tuna and fish industry influencing researchers and FDA fish safety policy.  I was surprised to read about this (Marion Nestle talks about this in-depth in her book, What to Eat) but in hindsight, I guess I shouldn’t have been… 

It’s a tough story to figure out because both sides have written several articles published in top medical and science journals arguing that fish is good and that fish is bad.  I took about 15 hours trying my best to sort through the data.  What I concluded is that, somewhere in the middle of both extremes is where the answer lies: fish is truly a healthy, “power” food, if you eat the right kinds of fish, and the right amounts.    So how much should I eat?  When, and what should I eat?  What kind of fish oil supplements are the safest?  To answer some of those questions, I made two handouts (Fish and Fish oil Recommendations, Fish recommendations part II), with references, that hopefully will help guide your shopping in the future.   

Happy Eating!


December 16, 2007 Posted by | Health news, Nutrition | , , , , , , | 12 Comments