I'm an advocate of fish oil, so lately I kind of know how Sisyphus felt. For those of you who aren't up on your Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who pissed off Zeus and, as punishment, was condemned to forever push a boulder up a hill, only to have it come crashing down again and again.
Frankly, I'm just a little surprised the CrossFit people haven't appropriated eternal boulder pushing as a WOD and given it some cute girl name, like Sissy.
Anyhow, trying to convince people of the merits of fish oil has gotten to be just as frustrating as I imagine pushing Sisyphus' boulder up that hill would be.
Every time I (or anybody else, for that matter) write a positive article about fish oil, or Biotest's premium fish oil product – Flameout® – some half-baked study comes out and claims that fish oil is overrated.
The Latest Fiasco
The latest fiasco involved a clinical trial (the VITAL study) that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It attracted a lot of attention by purportedly throwing chum on the idea that fish oil reduces the rate of cardiovascular events or other health problems.
Yeah okay, but there were a couple of big problems with the alleged findings. For one, the dosages and potencies of the fish oils used in the study were far below what experts recommend. Secondly, the media glossed over some of the relevant data.
Despite the woefully inadequate dosages of fish oil used, one sub-group analysis reflected a 28% reduction in risk of heart attack and a 50% reduction in fatal heart attacks, but no reduction in deaths from stroke.
Unfortunately, the researchers needed fish oil to check all of the cardiac-related boxes in order to get a passing grade, but the low-dose fish oil failed when it came to strokes. In a way, it was like dismissing a Major League baseball player as sub-par because, in his quest for the Triple Crown, he only hit the most home runs and had the highest batting average, but not the most runs batted in. Loser!
Because of fish oil's "failure," the media ignored the positive findings of the study and instead focused on some of the study's under-dosed endpoints to discredit fish oil, and that ain't right.
The Right Dosage
Most of the studies that support the use of fish oil found that the greatest degree of protection occurred in people who had the highest percentage of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood.
That's why I, along with other science types who study fish oil, recommend anywhere from 2,200 to 3,000 mg. of DHA/EPA (the two most biologically important omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil) per day.
So how much did the VITAL study use? A measly 840 mg. a day of EPA/DHA. That's only a third or fourth the amount deemed most effective in combating heart attack or stroke.
Put the Fire Out
But let's forget about cardiovascular stuff for a bit. Fish oil does a body a helluva' lot more good than just preventing heart problems, and volumes of studies have confirmed it.
First and foremost, fish oil is a hugely powerful anti-inflammatory and make no mistake about it, cellularly speaking, our bodies are on fire. Quenching that fire can help ward off asthma, arthritis, macular degeneration, autoimmune dysfunction, and a host of other diseases or maladies, along with decreasing muscle soreness and joint pain.
Properly dosed fish oil can also lead to significant decreases in body fat levels through increased insulin sensitivity (thus helping prevent Type II diabetes), increases in metabolic rate, and activation of leptin to control appetite.
What to Look For In a Fish Oil Supplement
The challenging thing about fish oil is in finding one that's of high quality. You need to find one with the following attributes:
- The proper dosage of the purest, most highly concentrated DHA and EPA fatty acids available.
- A product that's been purified by molecular distillation and stringently tested for PCBs, dioxins, mercury, and other heavy metal contaminants.
- A product that includes a self-emulsifying delivery system so they're virtually odorless, better absorbed, and don't result in a fishy aftertaste or "fish burps."
Biotest's Flameout® checks all those boxes. It's so highly concentrated, you'd have to double or triple the dosage of similar products to get even close to one serving of Flameout®.
Likewise, it's meticulously tested for any chemical contaminants, and, unlike most fish oil products, it doesn't turn you into a social pariah because your breath smells like a tuna cannery.
Lastly, it has one little special twist that's virtually unheard of in the fish oil world.
Most Fish Oil Is Made for Women
Most fish oil products contain more EPA than DHA because, well, that's what you find in fish. Companies, by and large, bring in raw fish that's been cut into pieces. They cook it with steam and then centrifuge it to separate it into fat-free dry solids and liquid (water and oil). This water and oil mixture, called "press liquor," is then further processed to separate the two liquids. The oil is then "polished" to remove impurities.
A more succinct version of that process is that they just squeeze the oil out of the fish and put it into capsules. Not very sophisticated, is it?
Compare that to Biotest's manufacturing process where the individual bioactive fatty acids are separated from the fish oil, further purified, emulsified, and then measured out in very specific ratios to achieve the exact DHA/EPA ratio they want, one that unlike the vast majority of fish oil products on the market, has a lot more DHA in it than EPA.
There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, men have a much higher incidence of heart attacks than women. Men also have lower amounts of DHA than women, despite eating the same amount of fatty acids.
See the connection? And it's not just fanciful conjecture, because DHA has anti-arrhythmic effects, reduces blood pressure, and even, according to one study, increases HDL by 29% (as compared to EPA, which reduces it by only 6.7%), all of which can help to prevent heart attacks.
The fact is that men need more DHA than women, probably because there appears to be an inverse relationship between testosterone levels and DHA. In any event, most fish oil products, or even fish itself, leaves men woefully underdosed on this vital fatty acid and possibly more vulnerable to heart attack.
Another interesting aside about DHA comes to us through Japan. Apparently, regardless of sex, DHA levels appear to positively correlate with longevity. Japanese researchers found that out of over 1,000 people over the age of 60, those that had the highest amounts of DHA in their blood had the lowest mortality rates.
Clearly, DHA doesn't deserve its "also ran" status that the vast majority of supplement manufacturers have assigned it.
The CLA Kicker
Flameout® was designed to fight inflammation, so Biotest included another fatty acid in its formulation that's a really potent anti-inflammatory agent all on its own. It's called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA.
This fatty acid, found in high concentrations in the milk of grass-fed cows, has been found to greatly reduce tumor growth in animals and possibly humans too. It's also a potent fat burner. Michael Pariza, one of the "fathers" of CLA, or at least one of its earliest researchers, explained its fat-burning effects this way:
"Every fat cell in the body wants to get big. What the cis-10, trans 12-CLA (one of the biologically active CLA isomers) does is force that fat cell to stay little by affecting a number of enzymes that are ordinarily responsible for filing it with lipids."
Now that I've discussed each of its components, let's take a look at what's in a recommended dose of Flameout®:
- Total free fatty acids: 4,625 mg.
- DHA: 2,200 mg.
- EPA: 880 mg.
- CLA (c12, t10 isomers): 212 mg.
- CLA (c9, t11 isomers): 140 mg.
Clearly, this isn't something you just buy from a Walgreen's, a big box store, or even your average local vitamin shop.
Not Just Fresh-Squeezed Fish
Flameout®'s primary purpose is to fight inflammation, which is insidiously and intimately connected with at least 100 of the greatest plagues of mankind, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's, and any rotten autoimmune disorder known to science. But inflammation also plays a big part in obesity as it can further insulin resistance.
Much of this inflammation has to do with having too much omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. The solution is to not only eat fewer processed foods, but to bolster your intake of the omega-3 fatty acids that are the backbone of Flameout®.
Furthermore, these omega-3s make the cells more insulin sensitive by increasing cell membrane permeability, which both increases the metabolism and protects against obesity as well.
Clearly, it would behoove the human race if we could keep the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids at approximately 3 to 1, the way that nature intended. That's why most health-conscious people take fish oil capsules, and all the more reason to use a potent one with some thought behind its design like Flameout® – not one that was just made with freshly squeezed fish.
That squeezing thing may work for orange juice, but not so much for a potentially powerful anti-inflammatory substance like fish oil.
- Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, "Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease," Circulation, 2002, November 19th, 2002: 106(21):2747-57.
- Otsuka, Rei, et al. "Fish and Meat Intake, Serum Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid Levels, and Mortality in Community-Dwelling Japanese Older Persons," Int. J. of Environ. 21 May, 2019.
- Schiff, Suzanne, "Rebuttal to Recent Trials on Vitamin D and Fish Oil," Life Extension, November, 2019, pp 71-76.
- Thorsdottir I, Tomasson H, Gunnarsdottir I, Gisladottir E, Kiely M, Parra MD, et al. "Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content." Int J Obes 2007.