Because it contains a high level of omega-3s, fish oil is one of the most popular supplements on the market today. Omega-3s offer tremendous health benefits for our brain, heart, growth and development, and as a way to counter inflammation.
However, there are some serious downsides to fish oil that rarely get discussed.
1) The Ocean is Incredibly Contaminated
Each year, billions of pounds of trash and other pollutants enter the ocean, not to mention the 8 million metric tons of plastic, equivalent to nearly 57,000 blue whales.
This could help explain why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a recommendation that young children and women who are pregnant or could become pregnant should avoid eating large amounts of fish and shellfish. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain mercury, which is especially hazardous for developing children.
The FDA has recently expanded its warning on fish, saying that it also frequently contains dangerous chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls, a type of persistent organic pollutants.
In addition to plastic, oil spills and debris also massively contribute to the polluting of the ocean and severely harm marine biodiversity.
2) Harsh Chemicals are Used in the Processing of Fish Oil
During the industrial processing of fish oil, hexane is mostly used — and acetone is sometimes used — to extract omega-3 oils for human supplements. Hexane is a highly toxic solvent that can cause severe nerve damage.
At the current moment, there is no such thing as USDA certified organic fish, largely because the inputs of cannot be controlled in a wild environment. Even if fish were to receive USDA organic certification in the future, fish oil would not qualify as organic if hexane, acetone or another toxic solvent were used in the extraction process.
3) Consuming Fish Oil Depletes the Fish Stock in the Ocean and Damages Biodiversity
With the equivalent of 1.6 billion fish killed each year for human omega-3 supplementation, this only adds to the unfortunate situation of nearly 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks being now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. When you add in the number of fish killed to make products for animal consumption, that number grows exponentially.
According to Paul Greenberg, author of The Omega Principle, most of the omega-3 supplement oil is coming from a fish called a Peruvian anchoveta — the most caught fish in the world. Some years, Peruvian anchoveta harvests have equaled as much as 10 million metric tons, approximately 1/8th of all the fish caught in the world.
Another common alternative to fish oil is krill oil, and hundreds of thousands of tons of krill are being collected each year from the depths of the ocean. Not only does this pose a threat to the krill population and marine biodiversity, but it is also contributing to global warming. Krill can remove up to 12 billion tons of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere.
A Better Choice
Fortunately, consumers now have a better and more sustainable choice for omega-3 fatty acids than fish oil. They can consume omega-3s directly from the source: algae. After all, this is one of the primary reasons that people eat fish — because fish consume large quantities of algae.
If consumers moved away from fish oil and toward algae in order to meet their omega-3 dietary requirements, we could save millions of fish, better protect the ocean’s biodiversity and provide a more clean product for consumers.
Furthermore, it would provide a viable and sustainable solution for everyone, regardless of allergy or dietary restrictions.