Over-Hyping Fish Health Claims May be Bad for Environment

fish oil supplements omega 3 photo

Photo: Flickr, CC
Doing Good on One Side, But Bad on the Other?
According to a study published yesterday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), the health benefits of fish have been "over-dramatized" and this has put a large pressure on wild fish populations and habitats. Could this be doing more harm than good in the end?
fish market photo

Photo: Flickr, CC

From the University of British Columbia:

"Governments and industry tell consumers to eat more fish because it is healthy," explains Rashid Sumaila, director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at UBC Fisheries Centre and study co-author. "But where do we get these fish? They are increasingly coming from the waters around Africa and other places where food security is a problem." [...]

Furthermore, dietary recommendations to consume more fish are incompatible with the sustainability of ocean ecosystems, according to a concurrent study recently published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

"For people in Canada or the US, or in the EU, eating fish is one of many possible options, both in terms of a tasty meal, and in terms of a balanced diet," says UBC fisheries researcher Daniel Pauly. "For many people in developing countries, fish is often their only source of protein. It would be irresponsible for us to 'triage' food sources without verifying that fish oil indeed promotes human health."

So it's not just a problem for the environment, but also for people living in poor countries.

Researchers say that the fatty acids that are so prized by people who eat fish, or take fish oil supplements, could be obtained from other sources (algae, yeasts, etc), and if the health benefits are the same (which is something that should be tested), why not? And if not, maybe there's a third way (specially bred algae that don't yet exist?) to produce those Omega-3 fatty acids in large quantities.

I certainly wish we had a more sustainable fish oil source, because I take some. Dr. Williams Davis, a cardiologist, often writes about the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D (taken in gelcap form, because it's fat soluble) on his excellent blog Heart Scan.

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