Friday, July 24, 2009

Do you need to take omega-3 supplements?

I often come across press releases from nutrition companies touting the benefits of krill-derived omega-3 fish oil supplements. While this one references a reputable study done by the Harvard school of public health that determined that increased consumption of omega-3s could prevent tens of thousands of deaths every year, it also tries to steer you towards purchasing fish oil supplements. I suppose the Alternative Health Journal is slightly less self-interested than the krill oil supplement manufacturer, but I wanted to inject some reality into the discussion. Namely, that the American Heart Association recommends that healthy people get their omega-3s from food. Supplements are recommended for people who already have heart issues, such as coronary artery disease or high triglycerides. So every time you see something touting the benefits of fish oil supplements, remember, if you're currently healthy, you don't need these supplements to benefit from omega-3s. The AHA recommends consuming fatty fish at least twice a week.

Of course, seafood consumption has its own problems. I suggest downloading the fish guide from either the Blue Ocean Institute or the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Don't, however, take your guidance from the National Fisheries Institute, which is trying to correct all the inaccuracies in the media about sustainable seafood. Their claim that it's not a bad thing for a fishery to be fully exploited would be hilarious if it weren't for the fact that the seafood industry has so much negative influence over fisheries management. They explain that "An under exploited or moderately exploited stock can be a wasteful use of resource, while overexploited or depleted stocks can cause concerns about the future." Yes, because as world population increases, there's nothing that should alarm anyone about the fact that most fish stocks, if not overfished, can't be fished any more without pushing them towards collapse. Nothing at all, given the increasing demand for fish, or the fact that many people around the world depend on fish to provide protein in their diets! The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines fully exploited as "The fishery is operating at or close to an optimal yield level, with no expected room for further expansion." Note that this doesn't mean that fishery management won't increase catch limits, even if scientists determine that this would be risky. Different fisheries have different management, and often industry has a big say in how limits are determined.

Currently, ASOC is working to ensure proper stewardship of Antarctic fish and crustacean stocks. The idea that an underexploited resource is a wasted resource is incredibly dangerous for the Antarctic. Sometimes, it's not even really known what the optimal level of exploitation is, given the uncertainty about how much of a certain species might be needed to be available for other species in the ecosystem, or how climate change might change the situation. Some fish, such as Antarctic toothfish (also known as Chilean Sea Bass), might not be able to sustain more than very low levels of exploitation. Concern from environmentalists isn't part of an evil plot to distort the facts - check out this study published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature for information about the true state of fish stocks. It's not alarmism, it's just reality.

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