Was taking my daily fish oil supplement helping or hurting my overall health?

First, the answer: NO, fish oil supplements are not “good” for you.  The Omega-3s found in fish ARE VERY GOOD for you but you better find another source other than fish, because you are pretty much ingesting little capsules of PCBs, insecticides and other chemical toxins.

A few weeks ago I ran out of fish oil supplements.

For me this is a rare occurrence because I have been taking them dutifully for over 10 years now.  For a while (I can admit it) I was a vitamin freak–even taking glucosamine-condroitin supplements when I was barely 22, yes many doctors had a good laugh at that.

These days, as a busy mom, I’m not as militant about my vitamins and sometimes forget to take them altogether!  These days I take a simple multivitamin for women, a CoenzymeQ10 supplement for my skin and heart, and my trusty old fish oil supplement.  In my before-mom days I would splurge for Carlson’s supposedly ultra-refined, “we’ll-get-all-that-pesky-mercury-out-of-the-fish” DHA/EPA supplements.

I was always attracted to the bottles with beautiful pictures of Alaska and Greenland where there could be no possibility of a polluted fish!   Those higher-end capsules ran out several months ago and I was too cheap to reorder especially when my husband had a big Costco-brand bottle of fish oil pills about to expire.  I figured the added mercury exposure would be outweighed by the omega-3 benefits to my heart and mental health.

It’s not just mercury, PCBs, DDT, insecticides and other chemicals contaminating fish, you can find prescription medications in them too! Prozac with your tilapia fillet?

Alas, the Costco fish oil pills recently ran out and last week I was back on the market for a fish oil pill.  Why fish oil?  Well, two reasons: (1) my 96-year-old grandmother who can likely beat my ass at soduko and (2) fish is the #1 most concentrated source of Omega-3 fatty acids (an essential nutrient that we ourselves cannot make).  My father told me that my Grandmother Onelia has taken a Cod Liver oil pill every day of her life.  The “liver” part sounded a little intense for me so I went with the fish oil supplement instead.

Recently, I read an article that if you’re prone to depression you can treat the condition or even stave it off with the proper dosage of Omega-3s from fish oil.  One doctor even recommends 1,000 milligrams of EPA and 500 milligrams of DHA a day!  That was a far cry from the 300 milligrams EPA and 200 milligrams DHA I would get from my Carlson Super-Omega 3 fish oil capsules.  But something (thankfully) held me back from ever reaching that “magic” dosage.  Sure, part of it was cost, but there was something “fishy” to me about getting too much fish in one’s system.

Just being logical, I thought about the recent oil spill in the Gulf, the radioactive waste being dumped near Honshu, Japan and the many decades of waste being pumped into our oceans.  Biologically, the fish of today are far different from the Cod’s of yesteryear that my grandmother religiously utilized to benefit her health.  When I stared down at my favorite Spicy Tuna roll I thought of all the mercury I was ingesting along with other health-diminishing toxins.  But my love of seafood has been a hard habit to break and I have tried to keep myself as blissfully unaware of the state of our global supply of seafood as possible.  In the past few weeks I’ve been loosening the reigns on my hard-earned bliss.  Maybe it’s because we are in serious contemplation of adding a new member to our family and I want to be as healthy as possible before I’m carrying a baby.  Or, maybe the “gut feeling” and mounting evidence are too hard to ignore.  Just like the rest of us: fish are what they eat!

Unfortunately, we can’t enjoy the benefits of omega-3s found in fish without exposing yourself to the risks of chemical toxins!

I was almost going to reorder my trusty Carlson Omega 3 supplements when I decided to do some further research–why should I shell out so much dough on something that could be potentially harmful to me?  I found plenty of articles and studies on how important Omega 3 fatty acids were to overall health but only some media outlets that talked about the true toxicity of fish oil supplements.  One of those outlets is, curated by Dr. Michael Greger.  In his video “Is Distilled Fish Oil Toxin-Free?” Dr. Greger cites several recent studies that conclude that fish oil consumption does the opposite of what it is touted to do for our health (namely act as an anti-inflammatory) and actually made those who took it more inflammed!  “The whole reason people are told to eat fish, told to take fish oil, is that the long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, provide anti-inflammatory effects.  So, there must be something in the fish oil counter-acting the good stuff and increasing inflammation and it’s likely the industrial pollutants, such as PCBs and insecticides.”  Dr. Greger goes on to note that these PCBs are known to induce the kind of inflammation that promotes obesity and heart disease and that is the same reason that Polar bears are now suffering from chronic inflammation–their consumption of highly contaminated fish.

In a subsequent video on the subject, Dr. Michael Greger’s video “Dioxins in the Food Supply” , I learned that the #1 most polluted food source was FISH OIL followed in second place by FISH itself!  You can only imagine how stupid I felt (and still feel) after taking these supplements for over 10 years and thinking that I am helping to improve my health.  Now, had the supply of the world’s fish been living in cleaner, pristine oceans I would have been coming out on top, but sadly it’s not the case.  As we all know, the ocean is more polluted than ever!  And even with all the distilling and extracting of toxins done by the fish oil manufacturers is not enough to get rid of the toxins!  I almost had a epiphany when I was excitedly watching the shows on Discovery’s “Shark Week,” and several marine biologists spoke about the literal mercury poisoning of sharks (even baby sharks) by the consumption of contaminated fish.  But I couldn’t make the intellectual or psychological leap.

Needless to say, I went to Whole Foods several days ago to pick up my new omega 3 supplement: Spectrum’s “Vegetarian DHA.”  The great thing is there is no fish oil in this supplement and it is made without any animal by-products.  I have also been researching famed Dr. Fuhrman’s (he’s the author of “Eat to Live”) brand algae-based DHA supplement called “DHA Purity,” which is a 100% vegan option.  He also has an EPA supplement called “New Harvest Vegetarian EPA” that derives the nutrient from yeast.

Needless to say I will not be going back to taking fish oil pills and maybe even eating fish in general…

xo, Kristen
Kristen Hong of Hello Nutritarian

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  • hipchicka3 says:

    im not a fish lover so that pays off, lovin it lol!

  • Michael Greger says:

    Hello Kristen!

    Thank you so much for helping spread the word about Please get connected and stay in touch–there’s a new video posted every day!

    – visit/bookmark the site –

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    And please help me spread the word by continuing to pass these links along! Thanks again for your support!


    Michael Greger, M.D.

  • Anonymous says:

    I let my good friend know about this article, she has been taking them for a mighty long time and she told me a nurse recently told her to stop taking them as she is a breast cancer survivor, any idea on the connection?

  • SheilaSellsSeashells says:

    I’m not a fan of anything fishy!  Great article and I’ll be passing it along to my sister who swears by these for shiny hair.

  • Jerry says:

    This isn’t an article people. It’s an opinion. Do you see credible, scientific peer-reviewed literature sources cited next to any of the statements made? No. Then please treat it with a grain of salt. Anyone who has ever worked in the food ingredients industry knows that every lot of materials need a certificate of analysis showing levels of mercury, harmful microbes, lead, etc are all below FDA or USDA standards. Fish oil is good for you.

    • Wade E Henry says:

      I have been taking fish oil pills for my Tinitus and it has reduced the ringing in my ears tremendously! Everything in this world is bad for you. Apples give you cancer ,Pears make you blind.. Come on people if it works for you and makes you feel good then just do it and do not take someones opinoin and go oh well guess i better listen to them..And if the ocean is so polluted then my kids should have have three arms each now..

      • Kristen says:

        If you are taking the fish oil supplement for the DHA and EPA benefits, go for an algae-based DHA supplement instead. There are many on the market now and they are what are given to pregnant women to protect the developing fetus from mercury contamination. As Dr. Greger explains in his video, the fish eat the algae and that is how they obtain the DHA, so why not go straight to the source.

        • Jim says:

          How can be assured the algae is not the same algae eaten by fish and is grown on land and doesn’t not come from the polluted seas?

          • Kristen | Hello Nutritarian says:

            Good question Jim!

            When I went to Dr. Fuhrman’s Culinary Getaway in May he talked about this very thing. He let us know that all algae production for DHA-EPA supplements come from a lab in Florida!

            xo, Kristen

    • Kristen says:

      Check the sources cited in Dr. Greger’s videos (the links are posted above). Also, I wouldn’t put much credence in what the FDA approves or deems safe levels of anything. As we see now with the arsenic levels found in rice, FDA approval is sold to the highest bidder and usually errs on the side of agribusiness. There is no denying that fish is contaminated with high levels of mercury, PCBs and insecticides. So, no, it is not healthy to have a concentrated dose everyday of your life.

  • Judy Patrick says:

    I have been asking this question for a long time without any real answer. Thank you because it stands to reason if our oceans are in such a mess why would fish oil be good for us? Its just crazy to think the fish wouldn’t be affected.

    • Kristen says:

      Exactly, Judy! I was a firm believer in the benefits of fish oils and now I get my DHA from algae-based products instead!

  • Brandon Adams says:

    Isnt this regulated by the food and drug administration (fda)? Are they allowing contaminated pills to be placed on the market?

  • Anonymous says:

    linseed oil is really good source of omega 3, this is a main component of Vegetarian DHA if i’m not mistaken