October 14, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Fish Oil Supplements/Metal Toxicity Cleansings

Yesterday I attended a talk given by an "applied clinical nutritionist" who works at a local pharmacy.

She really advocated the use of supplements for everyone (probably because the pharmacy she works at generates a lot of revenue through the sale of herbs/supplements and homeopathic remedies).

She recommended taking fish oil instead of flax because she said that flax requires an extra step to be processed by the body.

She said that some people's bodies aren't able to perform this extra step and you would never know one way or another, so she just prefers to stick with fish oil.

Since you often recommend flax, what are your thoughts?

She also talked about "cleansing" (the colon in particular).

Her recommendation wasn't about losing weight, but rather to flush out toxins, no matter how healthy your diet.

She said this is needed to flush out "toxins" that accumulate in our bodies from pesticides in food, air pollution, etc.

The cleanse involves eating certain kinds of foods (she wasn't specific) and taking some sort of supplements that help flush your colon, like magnesium (I think).

All of this sounded sort of unnecessary to me.

Is there any evidence that this type of cleanse is beneficial for people whose diets are already consist of nutritious, whole foods?

-- Kristin (last name withheld)

Austin, TX

Before I begin, let me thank Kristin for following up her question with an e-mail revealing the results of her own investigative research.

Turns out that acquiring the "applied clinical nutritionist" title is a simple task.

"It's a self paced certificate program through the Texas Chiropractic College. To earn the certificate, you must be a health care professional, or the staff or student of a health care professional (I suppose you could be a dental receptionist). You have to attend 7 seminars (100 hrs), take a test and pay $1400. In return, you get a shiny wall plaque," writes Kristin.

Sigh. Of course.

This is precisely why I strongly (I'm talking "The Incredible Hulk" strong) believe the American Dietetic Association needs to launch a multimillion dollar campaign raising awareness of what makes Registered Dietitians different from all these other empty titles.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of individuals in charge of booking and hiring speakers for wellness events, health fairs, and media outlets have absolutely no clue what the difference is between a Registered Dietitian, a "naturopath," or an applied clinical nutritionist.

Anyhow, time to answer Kristin's question.

As far as the fish vs. flax issue, I agree with the speaker... to a point.

It is true that the Omega-3 fats found in flaxseed (ALA) need to be converted by the body to DPA and EHA.

It is also accurate to say that the majority of people do not convert ALA efficiently.

A significant factor inhibiting conversion is that Omega 6 fatty acids compete with Omega 3 fatty acids for the same desaturase (conversion) enzymes.

Keeping in mind that our current food supply contributes an abundance of Omega 6, you can see why ALA --> DHA/EPA conversion isn't happening as optimally as we would expect.

That being said, I still recommend ground flax simply because most people don't consume much of ANY Omega-3's.

Simply put, ground flaxseeds are an effortless way to add some Omega 3's to a variety of foods (not everyone likes fish or wants to eat it.)

I also hope that the speaker's recommendation of taking fish oil supplements was mainly targeted at people who do not consume fish.

I would much rather you get your DHA and EPA from actual food (i.e.: tuna, salmon, sardines) first, and consider supplements a "second best" choice.

Furthermore, I hope she stressed that non-DHA/EPA sources of Omega-3's offer a wide array of nutrients.

Ditching walnuts and flaxseed and instead swallowing a spoonful of fish oil every morning isn't necessarily a smart swap.

What I COMPLETELY disagree with her on (and why I doubt she is an RD) is her colon cleanse recommendation. Ugh. Ugh. UGH!

It is unnecessary and not particularly healthy.

If people want to "flush out" their colons, all they need to do is consume more insoluble fiber and liquids. Plain and simple.

Not to mention, I would love to ask this woman how exactly toxins accumulate in a body with a regularly functioning liver and kidneys.

There is no evidence whatsoever supporting the belief that we need to cleanse ourselves of toxins.

What I find most illogical is that people who furiously support colon cleanses are self-proclaimed "health experts," who apparently fail to realize that colon cleansing eliminates all the HEALTHY bacteria in the human gut and can cause electrolyte imbalances!

If you'll excuse me, I now need to go center myself.


Health Guru Girl said...

when i was little, they gave us "Bacalao" oil in small gel pills. This was supposed to be great for our brain. So all this information actually proves my mother's point. Thank for the article.

Cat said...

Very enlightening, thanks! One of my friends have tried to talk me into the benefits of "cleanses" and "cleansing fasts". I feel that I eat a great, balanced diet 99.9% of the time, exercise, keep my mind healthy, etc. and therefore have no huge accumulation of toxins in my body.

I feel like people often get swept up in nutrition fads... especially ones that involve big, drastic steps. Why people don't get that just maintaining a healthy lifestyle in a relaxed, sustainable way is the way to go is sooo beyond me!

Andy Bellatti said...

Cat, I think it's because maintaining a healthy lifestyle entails a long-standing commitment.

The cleanse, on the other hand, is only a week long... and it cures all your ailments! (insert eyeroll HERE)

At this point, I'm expecting the next trendy cleanse to also make your bed and ask you how your day was when you get home.

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