We have all heard that fish and particularly oily fish is good for you, but can you get the same health benefits from taking a fish oil pill or tablet as you can from eating fresh fish? The simple answer is yes, if you choose a high quality fish oil.
Fish oil extracted from the fatty tissue of oily fish contains very high quantities of the essential Omega 3 fatty acids EPA or eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA docosahexaenoic acid. These fatty acids are essential for our health and wellbeing and yet the body cannot synthesise them by itself, it has to obtain them from dietary sources, either by eating fresh fish or by taking fish oil supplements.
Cod liver oil on the other hand, is extracted from the liver of the fish. Although also high in the Omega 3 fatty acids, this oil contains high levels of vitamin A and vitamin D. Vitamin A helps to fight infection and is good for night vision, and vitamin D is particularly important for those living in the Northern Hemisphere where there is not much sunlight. The danger here is vitamin toxicity. It is possible to exceed the recommended daily allowance for these vitamins leading to vitamin overdose as they can accumulate to unhealthy levels in the body. The only way to find out would be to have your GP check your levels. Consequently, some people like to take cod liver oil in the winter when there is not much sunlight around and then switch to fish oil in the summer.
There has also been a lot of concern about dangerous levels of mercury, dioxins, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other toxins found in fresh fish. The current recommendation is to eat at least two portions of fish a week but no more than four. Not all fish carry the same risk, for example mercury can be found in high levels in fish at the top of the food chain such as Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel and Tilefish. It can also be present in Tuna and in somewhat lower levels in Salmon.
One way to avoid the risk of harmful toxins and yet still gain all the health benefits of eating fish, is to take fish oil supplements. Fish oil pills are made from fish, so an important consideration when purchasing a fish oil is its purity. It is possible today to get pharmaceutical grade fish oil that has been subjected to intensive purification processes. This means that the oil is safe and pure, allowing you to gain all the benefits of the fish oil without the risk of exposure to harmful toxins.