One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

by Jeanine Adinaro on September 14, 2010

in General Health

swim little fishies, swim if you can….

I suspect that like many daughters, the information exchange with my father consists mostly of my dad knowing stuff and telling me about that stuff – you know, stuff like car maintenance, home improvement, investment strategies, and the like – but not so much in the opposite direction. However, concurrent with my career in Oriental Medicine, I am pleased to discover a slight shift in that arrangement in that my father will sometimes consult me on issues of medicine, mostly in the realm of alternative and complementary medicine, ask my advice, and even occasionally follow it.

Recently my father’s doctor told him to start taking a fish oil supplement “for his cholesterol.” And that was the full extent of his instructions, at least as I heard them from my father. Mr. M.D. offered no suggestion on brand, dosage or how to tell if it was doing my father a bit of good. I guess I am supposed to be happy that a “real” doctor is recommending alternative medicine as a first step instead of quickly scribbling a prescription for whichever statin most recently had a drug rep in the office, but I felt this suggestion fell a little short. Let’s face it, not all dads have a member of the alternative medicine community at their disposal.

I am pleased to report that my father listened to his doctor at least enough that he then turned to me for guidance on this matter. I am less pleased to report that the reality is I knew very little about fish oil. At the start of this discussion I basically knew the following:

  • Fish oil is purported to have many general health benefits, including benefits to cardiovascular health. Recent scientific research into fish oil is unraveling the mystery of why it’s good for what ails you
  • Not all fish oils are created equally- some are ineffective due to poor processing methods, some are contaminated with heavy metals because the fish used to make the products lived in polluted waters, and some are outstanding and dare I say miraculous in their curative powers and simultaneously free of contaminants
  • Probably my mother’s strategy for selecting dietary supplements- which one on the shelf is the cheapest- is not likely to yield the best results

I did what I typically do in these situations- I turned to Uncle Google for advice. And holy crap, let me save you the trouble here, when you type “fish oil” into Google, it yields almost 13 million results.

And then I had an epiphany- this must be what it’s like to not have training in Chinese herbs and hear from your hair dresser that her neighbor’s cousin’s daughter-in-law had terrible eczema that was magically cured by Chinese herbs and you should get some too, and then think, “Well, I’ll go on the internet and see what I can find.” What’s a reliable source of information? And once you have that information, who’s a reliable manufacturer? And once you have the product, how do you know if it’s having the desired effect without causing some other horrible effect?

Ee gads- how do you people live like this?

Then I took a deep breath, and I consulted an expert.

I called an acupuncture colleague of mine and asked her about fish oil. She has worked hard doing research, trying different brands, and using herself as a guinea pig in order to develop fish oil expertise. I trust her judgment and when she recommended Green Pasture Blue Ice Butter Oil/ Fermented Cod Liver Oil, I followed her suggestion. She said taking it made the “crunchiness” in her knees go away. I looked at their website. I found their descriptions of a slow, traditional manufacturing process appealing. The genius story of their product has sweet family elements to it. Their website sucks. No doubt this is the reason why when you type “fish oil” into Google, they do not show up on the top page. But I am willing to forgive them for being fish oil manufacturers instead of web marketing experts. In fact, that’s probably a point in their favor.

I ordered two bottles- one for my father, one for me. I’ll have to get back to you on how it goes.

In the meantime, my take away message from all this is: when in doubt, ask an expert. If you want to know more about fish oil, I’ll give you my friend’s contact info. If you want to know about Chinese herbs, you know where to find me. If you want to know more about car maintenance, home improvement, and investment strategies, let me sum it up for you- change the oil, don’t do it, diversify and more recently, don’t look.

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