Fish Oil vs Plant Based Omega 3


Q:  Why do I need EPA and DHA?  (from Whole9Life.com)

A:   Fish oil is not a magic bullet, but there are an infinite number of well-documented benefits for a whole host of lifestyle diseases and conditions.  The short answer is that EPA and DHA are specific types of polyunsatured omega-3 fatty acids.  Your body cannot produce these fatty acids – you must get them from the food you eat, or via supplementation.  EPA and DHA are natural anti-inflammatory agents, and as such, play a role in brain health, heart health, protection against cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression, improvement of skin conditions like psoriasis and acne, fetal brain development, inflammatory bowel disorders, and arthritis, to name a few.
Our typical diets are rich in another type of pro-inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acid called omega-6.  When our dietary intake of omega-6′s far exceeds our intake of omega-3′s, our bodies experience a wide range of negative consequences, all with the underlying cause of increased systemic inflammation.  Minimizing dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids, and supplementing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, helps to reduce inflammation, and the wide range of downstream effects.

Yesterday i tweeted: “My preferred brand of fish oil is Carlson’s Very Finest Liquid Fish Oil ~ http://ow.ly/4XJBq“. Little did i know where this would lead.  I’m hopeful just to a healthy discussion and not hate mail. My tweet started a firestorm of comments. Two runners I respect very much; Krissy and Adam got involved promoting what they see as a better source of omega 3s, plant based.  Adam admitted his opinion is not unbiased being that he’s sponsored by Udo’s Oil… as is Krissy, Scott Jurek, Geoff Roes and many others. A long list of ultra elites make taking plant based omega 3 seem like a great idea, but for those of us who aren’t vegans, is it? They both shared these two links written by Udo Erasmus (1st RULE: you must read all 4 links before you can comment):

Humans Turn ALA (Udo Oil) to EPA/DHA (Fish Oil)
Why even good fish oils are not enough

A few years before plant based omega 3 sources had become super popular I had already read and researched the question of fish oil vs. plant based. What I found was there didn’t seem to be much of an argument at all supporting plant based omega-3 sources as a superior, unless you were vegan. The overwhelming evidence shows that plant based ALA can be converted to DHA and EPA. However, it’s a pretty inefficient process and not a necessary one for those that can simply eat fish (or take fish oil liquid/pills).

With twitter being a terrible place to discuss anything I ended up writing the following email and rather than send it to a select few I decided to open the discussion online. Here is the email response I wrote:

Twitter is tough for discussion. It seems like the argument really comes down to whether we can effectively convert ALA (from plants) into DHA and EPA. Research shows it’s possible, but not optimal. So why not take the DHA and EPA directly from fish oil? My personal feeling is that Udo’s opinion is biased because he makes his living off you believing that plant based is superior. So i’d love to see someone else, anyone else, that agrees with him and is at the same time a well respected scientist/doctor/chemist/researcher or the like, whilst having no financial incentive. I haven’t been able to find anyone else who even considers this as a true argument.  it’s assumed now that fish oil is the superior way to get your omega-3s (with the exception of vegans who don’t have a choice).  Obviously that doesn’t make it correct, but there are mountains of evidence that we’re simply inefficient at the conversion.
“Research clearly indicates that the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is extremely limited. Less than 5% of ALA gets converted to EPA, and less than 0.5% (one-half of one percent) of ALA is converted to DHA.”
 … far from the 36% Udo cites on his website. A number I’ve never seen anywhere else.
If you are in the plant based camp please read these two articles (you are not allowed to comment unless you have read all 4 – udo’s up top and these 2 as well), if only for the other perspective. This one is from Chris Kresser who is the healthy skeptic.  He’s a functional medicine practitioner with no vested interest in fish oil. If he thought plant based was the best, he’d say so without any financial incentive either way. Also, the one I tweeted yesterday from Mark Sisson — bonus article by Dr. Mercola — none of these guys sell fish-oil.
So now it’s your turn. Adam mentioned there were others who share Udo’s opinion that plant based is the best. I’m going to guess they are vegetarians? Do they have an agenda or a financial stake? If not, send ’em over. I’d love the other perspective (and someone other than Udo’s).”


I’d like to mention I have no fish-oil sponsor. I’m interested in being as healthy as I possibly can be, so if the overwhelming evidence points to plant based products being superior, I will absolutely change my stance here.