The pendulum swings on fish oil

The best sources of natural essential oils are liver, egg yolk, butter, fish and beef from grass-fed animals.

by Mary Budinger — 

We know we need to take fish oil because it is good for us — despite the mercury contamination — right? Even drug companies are getting on the bandwagon with prescription versions. Yet a growing chorus of voices is saying we have been fed a fishy bill of goods.

The standard American diet is replete with foods that contain perhaps 12 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fish oils. The conventional wisdom says that we are, therefore, overdosed on omega-6, so we need to supplement with omega-3s. But professor Brian Peskin, dietary expert Chris Masterjohn, Scottsdale physician Abram Ber and others, say that we are actually overdosing on omega-3s.

Peskin is very publicly grabbing onto the conventional wisdom about fish oil supplementation and shaking it until it breaks. The term essential fatty acid (EFA) is so misused, he says, that he coined a new term — parent essential oils (PEOs). “The term ‘parent’ is used,” Peskin explains, “because these are the whole, unadulterated form of the only two essential fats your body demands, as they occur in nature. Once PEOs are consumed, your body changes a small percentage of them — about 5 percent — into other biochemicals called ‘derivatives,’ while leaving the remaining 95 percent in parent form.

“This is crucial to understand. There are a host of omega-6 and omega-3 oils being sold as EFAs that are not, but rather are nonessential derivatives such as EPA, DHA and GLA. Fish oils are made up almost exclusively of omega-3 derivatives. Your body does not need or want these derivatives because it makes its own derivatives, as needed, out of the PEOs you consume. Taking fish oil and other health food store EFAs often overdoses you with derivatives, which can be very harmful.”

Peskin says his 10 years of research prove that the present use of fish oil, high in omega-3s, does at least as much harm as good to our health. If Peskin is right, there are only two beneficial PEOs — LA (linoleic acid) and ALA (alpha linoleic acid). They become omega-6 and omega-3, respectively.

Peskin uses a number of studies to back up his position, including a 2002 study published in the journal Cardiovascular Research that compared one group of people who were given fish oil with a control group. About an equal amount of artery clogging was found within the two groups. In that same study, it was also noted that the artery walls got thicker (a negative) in the group given the fish oil.

In 2003, the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported an adverse effect of fish oil supplements on coronary heart disease mortality rates. In 2004, Current Atherosclerosis Reports reported that fish oil does not decrease chronic internal inflammation levels measured with a C-reactive protein (CRP) test: “There was no evidence for an anti-inflammatory effect as judged by CRP levels.” Several other studies have also concluded that fish oil supplementation has a negative effect on diabetes.

“What most physicians overlook is the fact that the body’s most potent anti-inflammatory compound (PGE1) comes from the omega-6 series,” according to Dr. Robert Rowen “… and your body’s most potent vascular lubricator (prostacyclin) also is a derivative of omega-6. So, omega-6s are not the evil fatty acids most people make them out to be.”

You might remember that when coconut oil was demonized in the 1950s, the studies used a hydrogenated form of the oil. Of course, the unnatural form produced distorted results, which made coconut oil look harmful. Similarly, this occurred in tests used to determine the properties of omega-6 in processed oils. The organic unprocessed oils were not tested.

Most of the omega-6 nutrients we consume today have been processed — hydrogenated into trans fats, or otherwise adulterated so that they have a longer shelf life in the grocery store. These adulterated omega-6s lose most of their capacity to transfer oxygen to our cells.

“We require plenty of unadulterated, unprocessed omega-6, regardless of what you may be told,” Peskin states. “Everything from peanut butter and frozen foods to salad dressings and cooking oils is loaded with ruined omega-6 PEOs. Your body still uses the defective EFAs if it cannot get the parent omega-6 PEO it needs. [However,] there is no ‘competition’ between good omega-3 PEOs from supplements and the bad omega-3 from food, and no need to overwhelm any bad omega-3 EFAs.”

It is interesting to see how our bodies use omega-3 and omega-6. Pathology studies tell us that the brain and nervous system have a ratio of 100 parts parent omega-6 to one part omega-3 (100 to 1). On average, muscles are 6.5 to 1. Most other tissues in the body have a ratio of 4 to 1. So omega-6 predominates.

Good EFAs, in small numbers, allow oxygen to enter our cells. On the other hand, if the cell membrane contains too many unsaturated fatty acids, the cell becomes “leaky,” with all sorts of compounds going into and out of the cell when they are not supposed to. In this way, EFAs can both contribute to and prevent cancer.

An interesting research study for people concerned about heart disease was noted in a 1994 Lancet article, which stated that adulterated omega-6s were the predominant component of plaque in a clogged artery. Conventional wisdom would say that it was cholesterol or saturated fat, but the analysis was repeated in 2001, and the results were the same. So, the deposits in arterial plaque are the adulterated omega-6 polyunsaturated oils that start out containing good PEOs, but are then compromised during commercial food processing and sold in thousands of products in grocery stores and restaurants.

Like vitamin C, we must get essential fatty acid from our diet. The body best uses these in the context of a nutrient-dense diet that contains adequate amounts of saturated fat, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation. The best sources of natural essential oils are liver, egg yolk, butter, fish and beef from grass-fed animals.

But even if we eat a good diet from pasture-raised animals, this new chorus of voices argues for omega-6 supplementation because we cook most of what we eat, and omega-3s and omega-6s are heat sensitive. In other words, they are depleted when cooked.

The modern diet, in which omega-6 fatty acids are rendered rancid by processing, creates imbalances on the cellular level. Imbalances overall can lead to lowered immunity, growth retardation, dehydration, flaky and scaly skin, hair loss, gastrointestinal syndromes, infertility, heart disease, cancer, fatty liver, diabetes, brain disease, DNA damage and aging.

Peskin says that the medical and nutritional community’s promotion of fish oil supplementation reminds him of the 50-year eating experiment whereby nutritionists advocated a high-carbohydrate diet. “Their recommendation was not based on science. The ‘experts’ are wrong again,” he states.

One notable hold-out in this debate is Dr. Joseph Mercola who runs the popular health website He says that we need essential oils from both plants and animals, and he advocates supplements made from krill oil, because krill are small fish and do not accumulate mercury and other toxins to the degree that large fish do.

Whether or not Peskin makes a believer out of everyone, he definitely is leading the shift into a new paradigm on the use of essential oils.


Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about integrative medicine. 602-494-1999.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 2, April/May 2012.

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