EFAs are easily destroyed, especially preformed ones.
Essential fatty acids, especially omega-3s, are easily destroyed by light, oxygen, heat, metals, and time.1, 2
- Light can induce free-radical chain reactions that break down EFAs into aldehydes, ketones, and other toxic and nontoxic products, as well as destroying their vital properties. Light destroys the EFAs in oil 1,000 times faster than does oxygen and is the reason that cold-pressed oils are sold in dark bottles.
- Oxygen causes EFAs to become rancid, resulting in a scratchy, bitter, or fishy taste and smell. Rancid fats are linked to increased rates of cancer, heart disease, atherosclerosis, and various other health problems.
- Heat destroys EFAs by twisting the molecule into an unnatural shape, thereby producing harmful free radicals and other toxic substances.
- Metals, for example, nickel and aluminum are catalysts in the hydrogenation process.
- Time is a destroying factor. As soon as a fish dies, its components begin to deteriorate immediately. The same holds true for oil seeds and grains. This deterioration accelerates during storage and processing, even when stabilizers are added. The major sign of deterioration is rancidity, as evidenced by a fishy or off-taste that leaves a scratchy feeling in the back of your throat. One exception may be chia seed, which does not lose its naturally occurring antioxidants (chlorogenic and caffeic acids). It appears this is the reason that the ancients were able to keep the seeds for long periods of time without spoilage.3, 4
With this in mind, when fish is cooked or canned, almost all of the nutritional benefit is lost and may even turn around to be more harmful. In fact, EFAs in fish oils are destroyed five times more rapidly than the seed oil component, ALA; and ALA is five times more sensitive than LA.5 Adding insult to injury, while the much sought-after long-chain (preformed) EPA and DHA are destroyed by cooking, toxins are not.6 Therefore, because of toxins and parasites, eating fish raw should never be an option. 7
Destruction through oxidation is a crucial factor when dealing with EPA and DHA supplements. While ALA is a fairly stable compound, the converted forms are not, thereby dramatically increasing the formation of free radicals. There is a close relationship between peroxidation (a free radical attack on cells) and cardiovascular diseases as well as such other diseases as cancer, cataracts, immune system decline, and brain dysfunction.
Studies have shown that the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) is indeed reduced by the effects of EPA and DHA but only if there is sufficient oxidative protection to minimize both the lipid peroxidation and the disruption of the cells antioxidant system.8,9 This is why many manufacturers of fish oil supplements supposedly include the antioxidant, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) not only to prevent oxidation but also to maintain EPA/DHA stability after it is consumed.
However, this small amount of vitamin E does not offer sufficient protection.10 The vitamin E used is usually the cheaper synthetic form and added only to increase shelf life. It has nothing to do with the health of the recipient. Potency of synthetic vitamin E is well recognized as being half that of the natural.11, 12
Vitamin E supplementation is very important if comsuming fish or taking fish oil; which will be dealt with in Reason #4.
- 2Erasmus. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill: The complete guide to fats, oils, cholesterol and human health. Alive Books, 1993.
- 3Ayerza and Coates. Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs. U of Arizona Press, 2005.
- 4Taga, Miller, and Pratt. 1984. “Chia seeds as a source of natural lipid antioxidants.” Journal of the american Oil Chemists Society 61:928-31.
- 6Environmental Defense.
- 7USDA Food Safety Concerns.
- 8Song, Fujimoto, and Miyazawa. 2000. “Polyunsaturated (n-3) fatty acids susceptible to peroxidation are increased in plasma and tissue lipids of rats fed docosahexaenoic acid-containing oils.” Journal of Nutrition 130:3028-33.
- 9Engstrom, Alving, Wallin, and Saldeen. 1996. “Stable fish oil has a better effect on cholesterol and joint stiffness than ordinary fish oil.” (Sweden) Hygeia 105:373.
- 10Nutrition Health Review, Spring 1991. “Fish oil poses problems, researchers charge – Agricultural Research Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tufts University; Food and Drug Administration unconvinced of health benefits.”
- 11USDA. 2004. “Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.”
- 12PDR Health. “Vitamin E”
This page was researched in November 2005.