Fish Oil vs Flax Oil? The Great Debate

by in Arthritis, Attention Deficit Disorder, Autoimmune Diseases, Cholesterol, Depression, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Immune Support, Inflammation, Kitchen Sink, Memory, Mercury, Multiple Sclerosis, Omega-3 Oils, Pain Management, Rheumatoid Arthritis April 14, 2008

shutterstock_4806400.jpgOne of the greatest flaws in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is a lack of omega-3 fatty acids.

Repleting this deficiency typically improves memory and mental functioning as well as corrects a gamut of other annoying health problems.

The reason for this is that these essential oils are necessary for proper brain functioning, immune function, hormonal balance and skin integrity as they are the necessary building blocks for the cellular membrane of every single cell in our body. Wow just ONE thing for all SIXTY TRILLION cells in your body!

This must be pretty important then…

Signs of omega-3 deficiency are memory loss, ADHD behavior, depression, dry skin, calluses on the heels, tendency to produce excess ear wax, rashes, arthritis and inflammation. Omega-3’s also appear to decrease the incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease as well as reduce the severity of psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic complications. Substantial evidence also supports the use of fish oil for reduction of blood pressure, clotting, arrhythmias as well as hardening of the arteries. These oils are especially fundamental to the nervous system as they “insulate” each nerve fiber and speed it’s conductive ability. Electrical signals cannot travel rapidly in our bodies without the myelin sheath formed from these good fats.

A nervous system deficient in omega-3’s is as about as effective as a lamp with a frayed cord.

For most patients I just typically go straight for the fish oil. Ultimately I prefer to use plant foods over animal foods whenever possible for environmental purposes, however, fish oil is the rare exception to this rule. People of Northern European descent especially seem to have a problem converting the omega-3 fats found in plants like flax and walnut as the diet of their ancestors was heavily reliant on cold water fish. Many people are also deficient in magnesium and B vitamins that along with zinc play a key role in the biochemical process of converting plant oils like flax to the form the body can use. Fish oil conveniently comes already converted to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) the key players in brain function, inflammation, and disease prevention.

Adding a couple of teaspoons of fish oil in to your daily routine is as fundamental as a multi-vitamin in my opinion. Please note that if you are pregnant you should NOT use cod liver oil because the high vitamin A content can lead to birth defects. Flax oil or a non fish liver oil without any vitamin A would be the better option in this case, especially because omega-3’s have been shown to reduce the risk of pre-term labor, so including them safely in the diet is important for a healthy pregnancy. Always check with your OB/GYN before taking any supplements. Because of the anti-coagulant properties, fish oil should also not be used by those with bleeding disorders or taking blood thinning medications.

Please check with your NaturopathicPhysician before making any changes to your health care routine.

One of the cheapest ways to add omega-3 oils in to your diet is to simply purchase a big bag of flaxseeds and a cheap coffee grinder used solely for grinding them.

Flax seeds are dirt cheap, full of omega-3’s, protein and fiber (1 Tbl=2 grams of fiber). They are also great for treating menopausal symptoms as the lignans have a phytoestrogenic effect that work synergistically with the omega-3 oils to balance hormones.

You can mix three tablespoons of ground flax seeds with applesauce and enjoy them an hour before bed to also stabilize your blood sugar for a good night’s sleep. Now flax oil is extremely delicate so please grind the seeds right before you add them to smoothies, salads, yogurt, applesauce, soups and the like. Flax should never be cooked above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use flax seed oil as a salad dressing by adding equal parts of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, along with your favorite seasonings.

So enough blah blah blah…the take home message is that you can easily add ground flax seeds to your diet as a cheap healthy preventative measure as well as eat more Alaskan wild salmon (not farm raised salmon as it is high in PCB’s aka toxins. Current lists of safe fish for consumption are available at For those with chronic disease or neurological disorders, fish oil is most likely the better choice.

Whatever you do, don’t waste your time with supplements that claim they have the perfect balance of “Omega-6 and Omega-9” blended with the Omega-3’s, as those oils are already widely available in most of the vegetable oils, raw nuts and seeds that we consume… so you are just wasting your money by taking those in a supplement. They are cheaper oils that just make the products more affordable but defeat the purpose in my opinion if you are already eating fat in your diet. I am a big fan of Carlson Lemon Flavored Cod Liver Oil. Be sure to use a high quality fish oil that has passed independent laboratory testing for mercury content, PCB’s, dioxins and spoilage.

To avoid burping up fish oil all day take it immediately before eating, never on an empty stomach. If that doesn’t work, you can also keep the capsules in the freezer so that they will stay intact through the stomach until they reach their absorption destination in the small bowel.

Fish oil should be stored in the fridge after opening, or at least a dark cupboard.

Sources: Textbook of Natural Medicine, Women’s Encylopedia of Natural Medicine, The ADD Nutrition Solution

Author: Dr. Nicole Sundene

  1. Hey Doc! Thanks for the reminder on the fish oils (ewww but I suppose necessary) – I didn’t get an e-mail about this one – odd? I’ll try re-subscribing.

  2. Hi Justin! Yeah I am not a fan of fish that much so that is why I take the oil. LOL Fish oil is very important for eczema though…I posted this late last night in typical blogger fashion so the e-mail will probably come out today sometime I am guessing. You need to get a pic up now that we have pics here. I think if you just click your blank avatar it will give you an option to make one. Or you can click on mine and join my community over at blogcatalog.

  3. Oops…that is at mybloglog…that is where I’m at. I think. So many social networks so little time!

  4. hmmm. thanks Dr. Nicole. The bag of flax seed I bought was already ground… It said to keep it refrigerated, so I’m doing that. What happens to it after it has been ground?
    I knew this Omega 3 stuff was really good, but I didn’t know it was that good.

  5. Hi Jennifer- so it is probably ok, but to ensure that you get the most bang for your buck keep it in the fridge or freezer. I think buying a bag of pre-ground flaxseed is just expensive hype when you can get a much better deal by grinding them fresh yourself…and it is much healthier. I would just use up that bag and then switch over when you are done with it.

  6. OK, thanks! Is Omega 3 good for bursitis? Sometimes it rears it’s ugly head on me in my shoulder, and I’ve never found anything to help it… It’s been over a year now since it’s been around. Mabe it will never come back.

  7. Anything that is an “itis” means inflammation…so most anti-inflammatory treatments will be helpful such as fish oil. It is good to start with foods as medicines because they are low force interventions with the least side effects. Bursitis may be more mechanical in nature but it couldn’t hurt to add some fish oil in to the routine and see if that prevents an episode. Especially because good oils help keep the joints lubricated. Kind of like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz ๐Ÿ˜€

  8. I’ve been using fish oil for about six years, and I can’t begin to say enough great things about it!

    I recommend it to EVERYONE!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Dr Nicole,

    Wow! You are wealth of knowledge. I needed to be a regular reader. I am eating lots of grains. Is too much fiber intake harmful for your body ?

    Also, I have a blog

    Please visit when you get a moment.


  10. BTW, I couldn’t resist but to subscribe to your blog.

    Thanks for everything,


  11. Hi Shilpan- I think I was reading your blog last night actually…thanks for stopping by. Now you don’t need to worry about eating too much fiber in the form of whole foods, only if you are using supplemental fibers in which those should be taken away from medications and vitamins because it will decrease their absorption. Minerals like iron and zinc will get bound to fiber (which is exactly why it is such a great detoxification agent for heavy metals). No worries though if it is just from food.

  12. Hi Dr. Nicole,

    This post was so timely. I had a bag of flaxseeds in the frig and reading this post last night reminded me to grind them up and put them in my morning smoothie. The winter has made my skin dry, so I’m hoping adding the flax seeds to my daily diet will alleviate that problem.

    You’re the best. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Hooray! Ding-Another life saved!! Flaxseeds are the best. The flaxseed people should pay me to promote them everywhere I go…

    Thanks for all your positive encouragement Barbara. You are the best thing that has happened to this blog… the world needs more people out there like you that are dedicated to just randomly motivating and inspiring people. Thank YOU!

  14. Do you have any comments on Krill Oil?

  15. Hi Lori! Thanks for stopping by. I do not currently use krill oil. Not because it isn’t a great source of omega 3’s and other vitamins, but because I try to stick with products that have passed independent laboratory testing at if you care to read their reports. Because of all the contamination in our oceans and because krill are bottom feeders we need to be very careful that products are free of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, etc. I use carlson cod liver oil for omega 3’s because it is safe and effective. The krill contains omega 6 and beta carotene, but those are very simple to get from other avenues of the diet. Until consumerlabs tests krill I will be hesitant to prescribe or recommend it. I am not saying that it isn’t a potential safe option though, I just tend to be conservative in my product recommendations.

  16. Thanks for reminding me to get off the couch and take that stuff in my fridge! If my family takes it regularly we all notice a difference.

  17. Gotta say, I guess you know your stuff alright, Doc. I am very impressed with your tirade on Omega 3s. For the past 10 years I’ve been gulping down 3 tbsp./da. of Cod Liver Oil, plus 2 tbsp. / da of Flax Seed Meal as topping for my wheat germ, banana, and red grape breakfasts. I am a firm believer in the old adage: If a ton is good, two tons are better.

    Way to go, Doc. Go get ’em.

  18. Mel- you are welcome. Thanks for stopping by…

  19. Hi Jack! Thanks for coming by. Still laughing over the “tirade” part of your comment…my family is very used to these frequent “tirades”. Wow you are a real role model with your healthy eating! Keep up the good work, and thanks for stopping by ๐Ÿ˜€

  20. Great article! I’m going to give the fish oil a try as many of the deficiency symptoms are things I have had for years. Question: how long does it take to start to see the effects of taking Omega 3 oils?

  21. […] just start drinking more water and taking fish oil. Dry skin is not hydrated skin. Good fats from fish or flax oil are needed to maintain a solid healthy barrier to skin. Nutrient deficiencies such as zinc, […]

  22. […] upset you should take it in divided doses. Everyone with arthritis should most likely be taking fish oil as an anti-inflammatory measure, and I will write on herbal medicine for arthritis in an upcoming […]

  23. That’s especially important for sufferers of serious long-lasting, debilitating diseases etc.

    I know that very well as a former sufferer of Multiple Sclerosis. Omega3 EFA’s are compulsory part of a complete nutrition.

    I included more information concerning different aspects of MS, including natural cures for MS, MS triggers etc on pages of my web site

    Thank you

    Dr. Czes Kulvis

  24. Flax seed has become a regualr staple in my diet since my chol. levels creeped up! Been very beneficial!

  25. […] free to read my article on the Flax vs Fish debate and decide for yourself the best choice for your omega 3’s. If fish oil is needed as […]

  26. […] Fish oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Cod liver oil also contains both vitamins A and D. I typically recommend 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil with food daily. This can be increased to twice daily. […]

  27. […] fat in their diet otherwise they run the risk of becoming deficient. Please read my article on “Flax Oil vs Fish Oil” to further understand the importance of fat in our diet and the common signs of essential fatty […]

  28. […] than flax oil, I would experiment with the oil that works best for you. You can read my article on “Fish oil vs Flax oil”. A concentrate of 9.6 grams per day was shown to be effective compared to a placebo in a small […]

  29. […] greasy scaling of the scalp. Mild cases of dandruff will typically resolve with the addition of fish oil, biotin and b-complex, zinc, and selenium, however more severe cases of seborrheic dermatitis will […]

  30. […] Chondroitin or MSM? What is the best alternative to using plastic water bottles? Flax seed Oil or Fish Oil? What to do for eczema and itchy […]

  31. […] just start drinking more water and taking fish oil. Dry skin is not hydrated skin. Good fats from fish or flax oil are needed to maintain a solid healthy barrier to skin. Nutrient deficiencies such as zinc, […]

  32. […] as astragalus daily (not echinacea–that is for when you first develop symptoms), increase , fish oil and vitamin A (not for pregnant women), decrease alcohol, caffeine, sugar, processed foods, and […]

  33. […] Reading: Flax vs Fish Oil How to Stop Burping Up Fish Oil Today’s Hottest Health Deals Save 70% on Top Brands @ eVitamins! […]

  34. […] Oil: 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil or salmon oil daily. Omega 3 fatty acids, as noted in my article โ€œFish vs Flaxโ€ if you have hypertension, I frankly wouldnโ€™t waste my time with flax […]

  35. Hi,I m agree with Dr nicole the fish oil is very good for’s very good articls for me thanks

  36. My total Cholesterol was 275 1 1/2 months ago. Since then i have been taking 1-2 fish oil pills per day and putting ground up flax seed on a few foods throughout the day. I just had another blood test and found my total to be 235. I shaved 40 Points off in 47 days!. I was sure i had to go on statins but my doctor says to keep up the treatment which i will gladly do.
    I guess my point is the flax and fish oil absolutely work!


  37. Hi Dr.Nicole,

    I read your article and all of the comments on fish oil versus flax seed oil. I didn’t see any mention of flax seed oil that had already been ground. For years I used to used cold pressed flax seed oil in a capsule form. Can you give me some feed back on that please. I have gotten away from taking it for quite some time but after reading your article, I plan to get back on to it after I hear what you have to say about the capsule form.
    Thank you so much for all your wonderfully informative news that you send from the kitchen table. It is much enjoyed and appreciated.
    Yours truly,

  38. […] Nat everyone they need fish oil or flax oil or both! Omega 3โ€™s are the new BLACK. Also remind them that the new more fashionable BUTTER is […]

  39. Thanks for the excellent information. You seem to be very well informed. I have a question. I have NH Lymphoma “B” Cell , slow growing stage IV in bone marrow. Surgery to remove 2 tennis ball size lymph nodes in Jan 08 – 26 chemo treatments. l-3-08 to 3-15-08 and 25 radiation treatments June & July 08 pet/ct scan June 09 showed no visible cancer. It is my understanding that the lymphoma stays in the bone cancer. Does fish oil ( Cod liver oil ) or vegetable oil ( Olive oil or ground Flax seed oil) have any effect on the circulation of the blood system that would attack and destroy cancer cells in the bone marrow??? I am trying to find a solution to killing the lymphoma cancer in my bone marrow. Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚ Sam

  40. I need to take something for all my tendinitus issues and my arthrytis in my big toe. I want to avoid fish oil for now since I’m trying to get pregnant. You say that flax oil is ok during pregnancy, but does is mess up estrogens, since you say that “as the lignans have a phytoestrogenic effect that work synergistically with the omega-3 oils to balance hormones”?



  41. natural ways to detox your body…

    Dr. Heiser was once asked about detoxing your body….

  42. Along with the above qiestion…What do you think about oils while trying to conceive- fish, flaxseed, evening primrose oil?

    I have read so many contradicting things…what to use, when to take it, some say oils help, some say don’t take them at all.

  43. […] for your day, or during your morning commute. To save time, I keep my blender, protein powder, flaxseeds, flaxseed grinder, and vitamins all together so it is not too overwhelming to deal in the […]

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