Fish or Flax?

So – Fish or Flax ?

Until recently the promoters of fish oil would have said you only need fish oil to get all the Omega-3 your body needs, but the competitive rivalry between Omega-3 sources is on the wane as the science becomes clearer.  In a recent interview, Adam Ismail, executive director of GOED (Global Organization for fish oil Omega-3) said, “the fact of the matter is that we need more ALA (plant Omega-3) in our diet” (as well as fish oil (EPA & DHA), goes without saying for them).

The story so far:

  1. You only get the increased energy effects of better oxygenation and reduced allergies from membrane integrity from the ALA in flax-seed oil – not from fish oils (see “Oil on the mem-brane”)
  2. You only get the healthier skin benefits from the ALA in flax-seed oil – not from fish oils (see “Pamper your skin”)
  3. Your body needs to have roughly equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 (see “The balancing act- Omega 3:Omega 6”), so taking a gram or two of fish oil in capsules is going to do little to change this.
  4. Conversion rates are higher than initial studies suggested and the latest research is suggesting that the body is capable of making the amount of secondary Omega-3s (EPA & DHA) it needs from the primary Omega-3 (ALA) delivered to the site where the body needs it (see “Conversion to secondary Omega-3s”).

To recap on the conversion story – many argue that humans can only convert limited amounts of ALA to the long chain Omega-3 EPA and even less to DHA.









A recently published review of all the research on the subject showed that the conversion of ALA to EPA, as measured in the blood, is in the order of 8 – 20% and the conversion to DHA is 0.5 – 9%.1

What do these numbers mean for me?

Our suggested serving size for flax seed oil is 15 ml per day, which provides you with 8600 mg of ALA, which your body could potentially convert to 688 to 1720 mg per day of EPA and 43 to 774 mg of DHA.

The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and New Zealand (NHMRC) suggest that we need an absolute minimum (AI – Adequate Intake) of 90 mg/day for Women (145 mg/day if breast feeding) and 160 mg/day for Men.  These AI values are only to protect against Omega-3 deficiency, whereas the higher SDT (Suggested Dietary Target) values are needed for reducing chronic disease risk and to achieve “wellness”.

What you NEED and what you COULD make


EPA + DHA mg/day




Your Body NEEDs





Minimum (AI)





For Wellness (SDT)




Your Body COULD Make


15 ml flax seed

731 – 2494

3 x 1000 mg flax oil capsules

155 – 530

So calculating the potential conversion of ALA to EPA + DHA shows that our suggested serving size of capsules will likely be covering your body’s minimum requirements for EPA and DHA.  If you are using the liquid oil, your body can make all the EPA and DHA it requires and still have plenty of ALA left to carry out the functions listed in 1. – 3. above.

What are your options for getting more omega-3 in your body?

Flax seed oil

Flax seed oil is the richest source of ALA (see “What-are-the-omega-3-fats”) and as the above calculations show; regular intake can provide your body’s need for the long chain Omega-3s EPA and DHA as well as the direct benefits of ALA.

Fish oil

  • In the Northern hemisphere, in particular, fish stocks are seriously contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals, and radioactivity.
  • “Fish oil – huge shortage looming”.  Since volumes of fish oil in the future are likely to remain static or decrease, the growing sales of omega-3 pills are on the brink of turning into a huge problem for aquaculture.  By 2020, fish oil supply for the industry will be short by 744,000 metric tonnes, says a 2011 report



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Is taking flax safe for pregnant women? Should I be taking flax if I’m pregnant?

I recently recieved this question from a customer:

“I have just been sold a bottle of Waihi Bush flax bloom by my naturopath when I told her I was trying for a baby. However, I am concerned about taking it due to the huge amount of information on the internet saying that flax seed oil is not safe in pregnancy due to the phytoestrogens. I have not been able to find a single site stating that flax seed oil is safe in pregnancy. I have found similar information about Evening Primrose Oil, which flax bloom also contains.”

“Can you shed any light on why you advise this product for pregnant women when there is so much advice against taking both flax seed and evening primrose oils in pregnancy? Obviously I want to make the right decision for me and my baby’s health.”

My answer – It’s really important to make a distinction between whole flax seed and flax seed oil.

Yes – the whole flax seed and our flax fibre do contain significant amounts of plant oestrogens called lignans – which have been shown to be very effective as part of your treatment for breast and prostate cancer (more on that later and see “Flax Seed Fibre and Prostate Health”).

One study with mice fed flax seed did give a small reduction (but not statistically significant) in birth weight, so I have put a caution on our flax fibre to talk to your health professional before using this in pregnancy.

Flax seed OIL, on the other hand, only contains very small amounts of lignans so there are no issues around using the oil when you are pregnant. Lignans are water soluble, which is why they do not go into the oil – you would get about the same amount of lignans from a serving of whole grain bread or a brassica.

The caution around using Evening Primrose oil during pregnancy is because the prostaglandins which the body produces to initiate birth are made from the GLA (secondary Omega-6) in Evening Primrose oil. This raises the concern that too much GLA might stimulate early termination – however prostaglandins are always acting in opposition to each other – so the Omega-6 ones which are used to initiate birth are opposed by the ones made from Omega-3, which the body uses to keep the pregnancy going.

So your body MUST have the building blocks to produce both prostaglandins, so as usual, its all about the BALANCE between Omega-6 and Omega-3 (see “The balancing act – Omega-3:Omega-6”).

I have carefully formulated flax bloom to contain the right proportions of secondary Omega-6 and Omega-3 to give balanced supply for the body to make the prostaglandins it needs for the stage your pregnancy is at. flax bloom also contains more of the primary Omega-3 to bring your body into balance during your pregnancy.

Conclusion – you should absolutely be taking flax bloom when you are planning to be or are pregnant. If you don’t eat additional Omega-3 your baby will rob your body of Omega-3 to build its brain and leave you short and vulnerable to post natal depression. Omega-3s are used by your body to make the prostaglandins that wind you down from stress, so all the “flax seed oil” babies I have come across are much more placid than usual and really switched on.

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Conversion to secondary Omega-3s

The Omega-3 in flax oil (ALA) is the primary essential fatty acid that the body cannot make – you must obtain it from your food.

A healthy body uses ALA to make the secondary Omega-3’s – EPA and DHA, which it needs for healthy brain/eye/nerve function. EPA is a key building block your body uses to make prostaglandins – key hormone like substances which control many bodily functions like the “flight or fight” reactions – think stress. So you do need both types of Omega-3.

However all the Omega-3s – ALA, EPA and DHA are alike, in that they all block the actions of some compounds that cause inflammation in your body. Most chronic diseases, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and arthritis are marked by inflammation. By blocking inflammation, ALL omega-3 fats help to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

How does your body do this conversion?


The first step in this process uses an enzyme called the Delta-6-desaturase (D6D) – this is widely recognized as being the step that restricts the rate of this process. This rate can be impacted by a number of factors – more on this later.

You can get also get EPA and DHA direct from fish oil, but there are some serious limitations for your body if you just take a few fish oil capsules:

1. You only get the effects of better oxygenation and membrane integrity from the ALA in flax-seed oil – see “Oil on the mem-brane”

2. Your body needs to have roughly equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 – see “The balancing act- Omega 3:Omega 6”, so taking a gram or two of fish oil in capsules is going to do little to change this.

A very common argument used by the proponents of fish oil, is that humans can only convert limited amounts of ALA to the long chain Omega-3 EPA and even less to DHA.

Yes – some of the initial studies did indicate quite low conversion rates, but as the measurement techniques have become more sophisticated, the estimates of conversion rates have increased substantially. A recently published review on the subject suggests that the conversion of ALA to EPA, as measured in the blood, is in the order of 8 – 20% and the conversion to DHA is 0.5 – 9%5.

But this is only part of the story:

• The conversion rate is influenced by oestrogen levels, so that young women can convert up to 20 times more ALA to DHA than young men (so that they can grow their baby with a healthy brain perhaps?).

• Preterm infants on formula were converting about 15% of the ALA to DHA.

• When a group of healthy individuals were supplemented with flax oil, the levels of DHA in the brain and retina increased, even though there was no change in the amount of DHA circulating in the blood. This explains why all the early studies measuring the rates of conversion of ALA to DHA in either the blood serum or blood platelets did not tell the full story.

So, in a nut shell, the latest research is suggesting that the body is capable of making the amount of secondary Omega-3s it needs from the primary EFAs, delivered to the site where the body needs it.

Considering that humans are thought to have evolved in Eastern Africa, well away from oily cold water fish, rich in EPA and DHA, this is not really a surprising result – aren’t our bodies clever?

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Oil on the mem-brane

How should you get flax seed oil into your diet?

The ultimate way is to mix it with sulphur amino acids because of the benefits to your cell membranes. Milk and eggs are the richest sources of the sulphur amino acids, but other protein foods, like hemp seed, are also good sources.

Emulsifying flax seed oil into foods like yoghurt, cottage cheese and mayonnaise makes the Omega-3 work with increased intensity, which greatly improves its functioning in the body.

When sulphur amino acids are emulsified with flax seed oil, they form lipoproteins in the stomach. The lipoproteins are then absorbed directly into the blood stream and are used by your body for constructing healthy cell walls/membranes.

Why are healthy membranes so critical for good health?

1. They are the key component of the oxygen transport system into the cell. When you start taking flax seed oil in this way most people get a lift in energy levels.

Since cancer cells don’t thrive in a high oxygen environment, such a combination is a key part of most effective natural protocols for cancer patients (See

Well oxygenated muscles also recover more quickly after exercise and athletic performance can be enhanced.

More on these two subjects later.

2. Undamaged essential fatty acids have a specific shape, which allows them to pack accurately into cell membranes, which minimises leaky membranes.

Leaky membranes are a key cause of allergic reactions from cell contents ending up in the wrong place – think asthma and food allergies.

Leaky membranes also allow water loss from cells, so are a major cause of dry skin, hair and nails (See – I see the signs).

So how do you introduce flax seed oil into your diet and get these great health benefits?


  • By emulsifying flax seed oil into foods like yoghurt, cottage cheese and mayonnaise it makes the oil work with increased intensity, which greatly improves its functioning in the body – this is how healthy cell membranes are constructed.

THE NEXT BEST (because you are getting some sulphur amino acids):

  • Use our delicious Mustard, Miso or Tamari flax oil sauces/dressings from our 3six9 range as part of your meal.
  • Or use Flax Seed oil with food, by adding to your meals – like pour it over your breakfast cereal or evening meal or add to mashed potato (See Recipes page on this blog or for lots more ideas.
  •  My personal favourite is a lightly curried pumpkin soup served with a dollop of sour cream and a slosh of Flax Seed oil.


  • Straight off a spoon – yes it has got a nice nutty flavour, but many can’t handle the oily texture.
  • You can use a treat like raisins to cut the oily texture out of your mouth afterwards.

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Eczema Experience

We recently had a stand at the Gluten Free Show in Christchurch and talked to a large number of people about the role of Flax Seed oil on food allergies and Flax Seed fibre on bowel, prostate and breast health.

We saw one horrifying sight – a very restless and upset two year old being lugged around by a very young mum. The wee boy had terrible red, angry, scaly eczema all over the visible bits of his skin – apparently his skin is all like this.

Having been through this experience myself I can imagine what life is like for the whole family – not fun.

I was fortunate to find the solution for Oliver and my family, which is why I now make the best Flax Seed oil in the world and continue to use it regularly.

So we dragged this mother over and I had a good chat to her about how important Omega 3 in the diet is and this was the probable cause of her little boys terrible eczema– she knew nothing about nutrition. We also gave the little boy a taste of a Flax Seed oil smoothie which he loved.

Having found that applying the oil direct to the skin took the itch out for Oliver, I rubbed a bit of Flax Seed oil onto his red and angry ankle. About half an hour later I happened to run into them further around the show – his ankle was already looking better – the scalyness was gone and red was looking less angry.

For those of you with milk allergies, another great way to get Omega-3 and sulphur protein (more later) into the whole family is Abby’s Flax Seed oil mayo.

If you want to get the recipe for our flax seed oil smoothie or Abby’s flax seed oil mayo, make sure you check out the recipe page on this blog or check out my other blog entries- both are featured as tips of the day.

If you know anyone with a child with eczema like this “pass it on”.

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The balancing act- Omega 3:Omega 6

Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio and Health

Now that you know what an Omega-6/Omega-3 imbalance might look like in your body (see my blog ‘I see the signs’), why is it so important?

What can this imbalance do to your health?

Potentially this imbalance can cause some really nasty things. It was summed up by the editor of the proceedings from a recent major scientific conference on this subject-

“A higher omega-6/omega-3 ratio is associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease, colorectal cancer, asthma, osteoporosis, arthritis, and neurodegenerative diseases and various aspects of mental illness, violent behavior, and deficient cognition in both children and the elderly.”

That’s a pretty serious list, which includes many of the very common health issues that face many people and entire families. The consensus from the delegates at the conference is that the optimum ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 is about 2 -3 or less.

Why will this happen?

Major changes have taken place in our diet in the last 10,000 years, since the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution, yet our genes have changed very little over the same period (perhaps 0.005%).

So today most of us eat very differently from the way for which our genes are programmed. Studies of the diet we ate as our bodies evolved indicate that the major changes that have happened since then include:

  • The type and amount of essential fatty acids
  • The antioxidant content of foods
  • The amount of dietary fibre.

How has this happened?

These changes have been exacerbated in the last 50 years by the advent of the modern vegetable oil industry, which has seen rapid growth in the production and, more importantly, promotion of “polyunsaturated” or Omega-6 oils. This has lead to rapid growth in their consumption, because we are “educated” by the vegetable oil industry to believe it is the healthy thing to do. (Check out my earlier blog “Are they pulling the ‘OIL’ over your eyes”)

What we used to eat:

Estimates of the food eaten by our forbears in the late Paleolithic period (our Hunter Gatherer phase) suggest an Omega-6/Omega-3 of 0.8/1 – in other words more Omega-3 than Omega-6.

What we eat now:

Similar estimates for the present Western diet show that it is both ’deficient’ in Omega-3 and with an Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio of 16 – 20/1 or even up to 30/1.

Thus there has been both an absolute and relative decrease in the amount of Omega-3 consumed in the diet.

How can you change this?

To redress this major imbalance it is important to:

1. Substantially reduce your intake of Omega-6 oils by switching to the healthier Omega-9 oils for cooking (See my blog “What are Omega-9 fats”) and by reducing the amount of junk food your family eats.

2. Increase your intake of Omega-3.

Flax seed oil (FSO) is the only Omega-3 oil capable of reducing this imbalance. Oils like hemp and walnut still contain more Omega-6 than Omega-3. (See my blog “What are the Omega-3 fats”)

While taking a few fish or flax capsules a day will have some impact on your health, such action is going to do little to change this major imbalance. Getting 1 – 2 tbsp per day of fresh Flax Seed oil into your diet is the most practical way to correct this imbalance.

How long to get in balance?

It is likely to take at least six months or even several years, depending on the amount of Omega-6 (think junk food!) in your diet and how much Flax oil you take.

How will I know when this has happened?

After taking Flax oil for some time you will reach a point when you get too much Omega-3, because the balance has tipped the other way i.e. an Omega-6/Omega-3 of less than 1. When this happens you will see the return of one of the symptoms of EFA imbalance (see my Blog “I see the signs”) – this will typically be the symptom you had in the first place.

Once you get to this point, then you need to start taking an oil blend that has equal amounts of Omega3 and Omega-6 to maintain good health e.g. Flax Balance from Waihi Bush Organic Farm. Any symptoms of an imbalance will quickly disappear.

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Ageing prostates- a growing concern

So why is a swollen prostate such a common problem in older men?


A fascinating book, called “Our Stolen Future”, was published in 1996. This book brought world-wide attention to scientific discoveries about “endocrine disruption” and the fact that many pesticides and compounds in several (but not all) common plastics and personal care products can act as potent oestrogen mimics (Xenoestrogens).

When we look at the impact of Xenoestrogens on a male eating a typical New Zealand diet, research shows that they are at a level which gives a total oestrogenic impact about fours times greater than the male body normally produces. Thus the impact on the male hormone balance and prostate is profound – hence the very high incidence of prostate problems in today’s Western men.

They also build up in the body over your life and so the usual result is disruption the normal hormonal patterns as you age.

This is a key factor in the health issues around menopause and andropause for men.

What are the other potential effects of this Xenoestrogen exposure?

1. Lowered Sperm Count

Recent research has confirmed the results of the initial 1992 study, which reported a large global decline in sperm count around the world since 1938. In the last 20 years, the average Kiwi male sperm count has halved to around 50 million per millilitre, which is still Ok sperm quality, but it’s not a good look.

2. Reproductive Defects

These compounds can also interfere with the natural signals controlling development in the foetus and the number of boys born with reproductive defects has increased by 200% in the past two decades.

3. Obesity

The other potential oestrogenic impact for modern men actually comes from within, in that if you are overweight your fat cells become a significant source of oestrogen.

Being overweight increases the activity of an enzyme called aromatase, which converts testosterone to oestrogen, greatly exacerbating the male/female hormone imbalance.

What to do about it?

1. Flax fibre

The lignans in the flax fibre work as a very weak oestrogen, which will lock onto an oestrogen receptor and dampen down the overall oestrogen response in your body. For some men this can be enough to eliminate the problems associated with oestrogen dominance. See previous Blog.

Because of the potential damage high oestrogen levels can do to body, it makes sense to use a source of phytoestrogen, like flax fibre first. For many, reducing the impact of increased oestrogen levels from being overweight or environmental/food pollution in this way is all that is required.

Is this all I need to do?

Maybe not – the balance of male/female hormones has two sides to it.

2. Body Identical Hormones

For others, the age related decline in production of progesterone and testosterone may need addressing as well.

Yes – men should have substantial levels of progesterone and it often declines earlier than testosterone – it is also what the body uses at the precursor to make testosterone. To me this is a powerful reason to look at progesterone first, as this allows the body to make what it needs, rather than being given the testosterone level we guess it needs.

Contrary to common perception, high testosterone does not cause prostate cancer (otherwise most 20-year-old men would have prostate cancer!). Studies have shown that men with the highest level of testosterone have the least prostate enlargement.

Low levels of these hormones may show up as one or more of the following:

• Loss of your sex drive, possibly leading to erectile dysfunction and impotence

• Reduction in your muscle mass and strength

• Feminization of your body … even shrinkage of your penis

• Higher risk of diseases like prostate cancer, heart disease, and diabetes

• Weight gain, especially that “pot belly”

• Mood swings and depression

• Bone loss and potentially higher risk of osteoporosis

• Compromised immune function and lowered resistance to disease

• Memory loss & accelerated aging

For many men it may seem that the simple solution is to get hold of some Viagra or similar. While this may address the first of this list of potential symptoms, such a solution can very quickly create a mental dependency. If you think you can’t get an erection without a drug – you wont – the mind is VERY powerful in this area. These drugs can also come with some quite unpleasant side effects and of course do nothing to address the other potential impacts on your body and health.

The first step should be to get a hormone saliva test (blood tests are notoriously unreliable). In many countries the body identical hormones needed to address any imbalance discovered can be bought over the counter, however in New Zealand and Australia you can only get progesterone and or testosterone on a doctor’s prescription.

Getting a prescription can become problematic, in that finding a doctor who knows enough about body identical hormones to knowledgeably prescribe them, can be a challenge. Most doctors are only familiar with the progestins (synthetic versions which have been modified to have similar effects but are patentable and hence highly profitable for drug companies), which do not have the same effects. If you can’t find a knowledgeable practitioner, then you could apply progesterone cream yourself and monitor results. This option can be simple, inexpensive and safe (progesterone, provided it is “natural”, has no side effects whatsoever), but it’s quite hard to get the levels right, as the impacts can be quite subtle.

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