Essential Fatty Acids

Numerous research articles and clinical studies have demonstrated the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids and gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) as anti-inflammatory agents. Their dual ability to suppress the production of pro-inflammatory compounds while enhancing the production of anti-inflammatory compounds is uniquely beneficial for migraine sufferers.

Alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) occurs primarily in green leafy vegetables, soybeans, spirulina, and walnut, canola and flaxseed oils. Its derivatives, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), occur naturally in fish and are especially abundant in fresh, naturally-fed, cold water varieties (most farmed fish are fed low omega-3 diets and therefore have little EPA/DHA in their tissues). Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) found in hemp, borage, black currant, and evening primrose oils belongs to the omega-6 family, but has an almost identical chemical structure to alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and is therefore beneficial for many of the same purposes.

Research has shown that taking olive oil (oleic acid) and fish oils (EPA and DHA) for two months reduces the frequency, duration and severity of migraine headaches in adults and adolescents. The dosing used in these studies was about 4-5 Tbsp. of olive oil (1382 mg oleic acid), 756 mg EPA and 498 mg DHA per day.

Getting the Dosing Right

The real key with using fish oils is getting the right amount of EPA and DHA. Most fish oils will say that they contain “1000 mg of fish oil per capsule” or “1000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving”. However, you have to flip the bottle over and find out (1) how much EPA and DHA are in a serving and (2) how many capsules are in a serving.

Here’s an example:

Fish oil A states that each capsule contains 1000 mg of fish oil. Here is the label:

Looking at the label, you can see that a serving is 1 soft gel and that each softgel has 420 mg of EPA and 300 mg of DHA. If we wanted to get in the necessary amount of EPA + DHA daily (at least 1300 mg EPA + DHA) we would need to take 2 softgels daily.

Fish oil B also states that each capsule contains 1000 mg of fish oil. Here is the label:

Looking at this label, we see that a serving is four soft gels and that each serving contains 105 mg of EPA and 185 mg of DHA. That means that in order to get the recommended amount of EPA + DHA (at least 1300 mg) we would have to take 20 softgels daily! The price tag on Fish Oil B is less than Fish Oil A, but you need to take 10 times more in order to get amount of EPA and DHA to reduce your headaches.

So you can take Fish Oil A and take one of these  twice daily OR you can take Fish Oil B and take this many fish oil capsules daily. Which would you choose?

Quality is Key

Supplement quality is the major concern across the supplement industry. It is especially important in fish oils because most contaminants are fat-soluble, which means they are dissolved in fat. Therefore, it takes special processing and manufacturing methods to make sure the fish oil product you are getting is free of harmful contaminants while providing you the amount of EPA and DHA stated on the label. Unfortunately, a recent study shows that many of the largest supplement manufacturers are selling fish oils that contain high levels of contaminants.

A lawsuit was filed based on a study that showed many fish oil products contained dangerously high levels of a cancer-causing compound called PCB. Even though PCBs were banned in 1979, they are still pervasive in the environment and are found in almost all fish. Without proper processing, they will be passed through into fish oil supplements.

The following manufacturers were found to have fish oil supplements that contained high levels of PCBs: Twinlab, Nature Made, CVS Pharmacy, GNC, Rite Aid, NOW Foods, Solgar and Omega Protein.

Now before you give up on the idea of taking fish oil supplements because of the possibility of impurity, several companies undertake the required manufacturing steps to remove these impurities and use third party labs (i.e., labs they don’t own) to test them to make sure they meet the highest quality and safety standards. All of the fish oils we recommend meet these standards, so you can be sure you are receiving everything you want and nothing you don’t.