fish oil

Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

What effects can one expect from a month of high dose omega 3 fish oil supplementation?  I have some educated guesses as to the potential benefits to pounding 40 grams of fish oil per day for 30 days.  But as for the “why”, well, there’s no better way to test theory than to do a little citizen science and subject that theory to the scrutiny of real world application.

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It’s More than Just About Omega 3 Fish Oil Supplementation.  It’s About Citizen Science

I’ve written about this previously, but the bottom line in all healing and coaching arts is this: results trump credentials. The revolutionaries in the Paleo movement realized this long ago, and now the idea is beginning to spread to a wider audience.

And make no mistake: our brand of citizen science has nothing to do with being mere outsource agents or data collectors for established academia.  We have no problem with that model, as such.  But this brand of citizen science is science done in the true sense of the word, and in the spirit of  Da Vinci, Copernicus, Newton, Franklin, and Tesla.

Those whose ideas and passions were scorned and constrained by the establishment precisely because they put a glaring and embarrassing spotlight on the establishment’s inadequacies. Citizen Science criticizes not just with rhetoric, but by creating a better alternative.  Better yet, an alternative that cannot be ignored.

In the words of Arthur Schopenhauer –

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Credit where credit is due

First of all, this is hardly a unique protocol.  High dose omega 3 fish oil supplementation has been touted by Dr. Mauro DiPasquale (to whom the cyclic ketogenic diet can be traced) as far back as the late 80s.  More recently the idea was  refined and revised by Charles Poliquin.

Also, my good friend, biohacker, polymath, and Paleo f(x) alum, Ryan Frisinger (of Kosmic Animal) has put his unique twist on the protocol.  And it’s Ryan’s protocol that I’ll be following.

Ryan’s insight into genetics, methylation cycles, diet, botanicals, and philosophy are impressive indeed.

What are the expected benefits of high dose omega 3 fish oil supplementation?

There are many, for sure.  But here’s the short list:

  • cognitive enhancement
  • mood elevation
  • CNS “quieting” / calming / normalizing.  Enhanced ability to transition from parasympathetic to sympathetic, and back again
  • reduced inflammation
  • gut healing
  • reduced appetite (blunted carb cravings) / fat reduction
  • reduction / “dissolving” of scar tissue
  • enhanced hypertrophy

Not surprisingly, scant scientific literature (like, none) can be found on the effects of prolonged high dose omega 3 fish oil consumption.  And I say “not surprisingly” because who is going to fund such a study?  The only players who’d stand to benefit favorably from such a study would be the fish oil refiners themselves, and it’s not like they’re rolling in marketing dough.

Below, however, are a couple links for additional info.  Note: plenty of anecdotal reports here.  To my knowledge, there isn’t a single scientific study on high dose fish oil ingestion for long periods of time (i.e., 30 days or more).  As with all undertakings in the realm of  “citizen science”, I’m going in with eyes wide open.  As should you, when doing the same.  Caveat emptor; you know the drill.

 The protocol

Just as it’s billed:  40 grams (~10 teaspoons) of the good stuff a day, split between a 20 gram AM dose, then another 20 gram PM dose.  Per Ryan’s suggestion, I’m using Pharmax’s Finest Pure Fish Oil for this experiment.  Best quality for cost on the market.  Because, let’s face it: this is not an inexpensive venture.

Carlson’s probably wouldn’t be a bad choice if Pharmax is out of reach or unavailable.  The nod to Pharmax is due to their (reportedly) tighter heavy metal monitoring and formulation process.

I dosed on an empty stomach in the AM, and after dinner in the PM.  From what we know currently, dosing either way doesn’t make a difference.  As well, there were times (due to traveling, forgetfulness, etc.) that I took the entire dose in the AM or PM.  Again, I don’t think it mattered much in the grand scheme of things.

Dosing breakdown

40 grams of fish oil equates to ~10 teaspoons  or 50 mls of liquid. Per the Emerson label, each teaspoon /4 grams / 5mls = 950 mg EPA and 725 mg DHA.

The Paleo / evolutionary argument is that it’s estimated we consumed 300 – 400 grams of Omega 3s / per week in our not too distant evolutionary past. So even at 40 grams / day we’re not hitting above that amount — even within the context of an otherwise healthy, dialed-in Paleo diet.

My initial Results (6 days in)

So I began this run on the evening of  January 21st.  First thing I noticed was a near complete blunting of appetite.  Not from an “ugh…. my stomach is screwed” feeling, but from more of an “ I don’t even feel the urge to eat” standpoint.  Very interesting.

In fact, on the morning of the 22nd (following my 20 gram AM dose), I got busy with work related issues and, since I was at the gym, took a break to dive into a heavy and hard workout.  After a particularly hard set of deadlifts (it was 3:30 PM by this point), I lapsed into an unusual spell of dizziness.  Odd for me, even with extreme efforts.   I tried to piece together why this might be so, and realized that I hadn’t eaten all day.  Not one damn thing.  Now, I usually eat on internal cue, but in the absence of that normal cue, well…

Note to self: while on this protocol, you’ll need to remember to eat sufficiently to support work output.  Interesting indeed.

I’ve also noticed an elevated mood; a peaceful, easy feeling, as it were.  Somewhat like the feeling of having just meditated.

As well, I’ve noticed an enhanced energy.  Not in a jittery sense, but more of a focused ability to “get shit done”.  I continuously struggle with curiosity run amuck (ADD?), and I tend to dive into (albeit super interesting) rabbit holes from which I emerge hours later wondering just where in the hell the workday went.  I now seem to have the ability to both better control that, and to glean whatever information I’m looking for without getting sucked into those vortexes.  If nothing else comes from the experiment, this, for me, is a huge win.

Another thing I’ve noticed (again, I’m just 6 days into the experiment), is a refined clarity, vibrancy and sharpness of vision.  Contrast and colors are incredibly sharp.  It seems to me akin to low dose LSD in that respect.  Without, though, the emotional separateness.  In other words, my feeling throughout the day is very “warm” and connected.  Very cool indeed.

Any potential negatives to high dose Omega 3 supplementation?

As discussed, this protocol can be costly.  40 grams / day (at Emerson’s current price) works out to about $240 for the month’s supply.  The health benefits though, could be well worth it.  Especially if you suspect inflammation is running rampant.

And too, the intent is to dose high for a month, then taper to a more reasonable (in a cost effectiveness sense) 5 grams / day or so.  The follow-on protocol is still to be determined, and would be highly n=1 driven.

It’s also a pain in the ass to be tethered to a bottle of fish oil.  Capsules could do the trick (for travel, etc.), but that would get *really* cost prohibitive.  Possibly a combo of the two would work; relying on capsules in a pinch.  As of now though, I’m all liquid, all the time.

One more thing: some people do seem to have a diminished thirst response while on this protocol.  Not sure why that would be (and it didn’t happen to me), but it is something to be mindful of.

Chris Kresser’s take

Chris has written this recent piece on the potential negatives of higher dose fish oil supplementation.

Note: all studies cited in Chris’ piece were done using relatively low doses of fish oil / omega 3s.  So there’s that.

But mostly my counter to Chris’ piece revolves around the rather myopic view these studies take.   Which, of course, skews the outcome.

In other words, there seems to be a tendency in most practitioners to be lured into this reductionist mindset; studying the isolated expression of one factor or another to determine whether or not an activity is good or bad.  Majoring in minors, as it were.

My point here is that we have to step back and understand what the action in question is affecting, vis-a-vis, the human in its current environment.  The totality of the epigenetic input matters greatly.

For my part, I’m only interested in the isolated minutia insofar as they might better drive (by tweaking) the outcome.  In other words, using isolated minutia as a “fine adjust” to the 30-thousand-foot-view of using the stimulus itself as the “coarse adjust”.

Another point is that some activities don’t scale.  That is, when we go the reductionist route what we’re really trying to do is develop systems and processes (in this case, healing modalities and performance enhancement) that can be translated into repeatable, duplicatable and expedited expected outcomes.

This simply doesn’t work when we’re dealing with individuals comprised of unique genetic make ups in unique epigenetic environments.  The same reason that cookie-cutter training routines have serious limitations.  We can delve into the minutia, yes, but only in the context of the individual and the sum of his epigenetic exposure.

And believe me, I get it.  As a business person, I do realize this “non-scalability” really sucks!  But at the end of the day, we’re talking about the healing and coaching arts here, *not* the manufacture of bobble head dolls.  The act of healing and coaching is, above all, an art.

The teaching of that art might be somewhat scaleable, but not the act itself.

Follow-up posts

 

Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world ~

Keith

 

 

25 COMMENTS

  1. So by 40 grams of fish oil, you mean enough fish oil to give you 40 grams of EPA plus DHA. That really is a megadose! Would it be possible, under any circumstance, to get that much via whole food sources? Is there any sort of paleo/evolutionary argument or case that we should be getting that much in our diet?

    • Hey, Craig!

      The dosing is 40 grams, which equates to 10 teaspoons / 50 mls of oil. Per the label, each teaspoon /4 grams / 5mls = 950 mg EPA and 725 mg DHA.

      The Paleo / evolutionary argument is that it’s estimated we consumed 300 – 400 grams of Omega 3s / per week in our not too distant past. So even at 40 grams / day we’re not hitting above that amount — even within the context of an otherwise healthy, dialed-in Paleo diet.

      • Do you have a reference for that? Salmon is supposed to be the king when it comes to Omega 3’s (Herring even better I guess). But wild salmon comes in at a gram (about 1,000 mg) of Omega 3’s per 3 oz serving. So 40 grams per day is 120 oz of salmon, or 7.5 lbs per day of cooked salmon (unless I’ve really hosed up the math). That seems like a lot.

        • I’d have to dig around for those references, but I do know they’re out there. Remember, too, that our (coastal) ancestors scarfed abundant shellfish and other smaller marine life, and our inland brethren ate grass-fed herbivores, the meat of which was heavily-laden (as opposed to modern meat) with Omega 3s. And they concentrated on the brain and viscera of those animals.

          • Thanks for the reply. I did a little digging with google, and found one paper which had a table that originated with work by Boyd Eaton.

            That particular table suggested an average intake of about 13.7 g/day of omega 3’s. However, 93% of this was in the form of alpha linoleic acid, and 90% of that came from plant foods. The average daily intake of omega 3’s in the form of EPA + DPA + DHA was 1.08 g/day, all from animal sources. This was from a 1998 paper.

            So a supplemental regime such as you describe seems to be heavily over-weighted in terms of longer chain omega 3’s. Since these are considered the most valuable form of omega 3, perhaps that is a good thing. But it isn’t congruent with Boyd Eaton’s 1998 estimate of the fatty acid profile for a paleolithic diet, where most of the omega 3 was in the form of alpha linoleic acid from plant sources.

            Of course, this is just from one paper, and there are likely many others that I haven’t found.

            I personally take about 2.5 gm per day of longer chain omega 3’s from fish oil. I did this mainly on the advice of my doctor, to try to reduce my triglyceride levels. It helped, but not as much as reducing my carb intake. A few years back, while on this regime, I had an NMR lipid profile done; the report includes a fatty acid profile of the blood sample. My omega 3 level was on the high side, outside the normal range. My omega 6 level was on the low side, outside the normal range. They reported an “HS-omega 3 index” of 11.6 Anything over 8.0 was considered optimal. (Not sure how the index was calculated.) So you are probably off the charts in terms of omega 3 levels….

          • So to put some context on that Eaton paper: this was a study of extant hunter-gatherers. I think this is a great place to start, however, I wouldn’t look to these tribes’ activity or diet as being “optimal”. The reason I say that is that these peoples have been pushed into less-than-desirable lands by profiteering nations seeking to control more fertile areas. Not a political statement, just the way it is. So I look to studies like this for directional accuracy more so than examples of optimal being. But that’s just my take.

            I should mention, too, that I view western medicine categories (normal, high, low, etc.) much the same way. In other words, “normal” as compared to what? Others within a sick, poorly optimized society? Again, just my 2 pesos. But something that nonetheless needs to be asked.

            Let me dig and see if I can find some other studies for you to look at, re: Omega 3 consumption in early man.

  2. Very interested to see how this goes.

    I’ve always wanted to try this experiment. I remember Poloquin saying that he helped an NFL-hopeful put on 29 pounds of lean mass in a month just by adding fish oil.

    It’s such an outlandish claim that it’s put me off from trying this experiment but if you see some kind of positive gains from the experiment I may have to revisit.

  3. Keith,

    I’m curious if you ever did any further digging into the fatty acid amount and makeup associated with paleo diets. I found a couple of additional sources of information in the form of tables in books that could be viewed at books.google.com These references continue to suggest to me that the bulk of the Omega 3’s ingested in a paleo diet were in the form of ALA, even when a diet was heavy in fish and meat.

    The body can convert ALA to other forms, but I don’t know how much conversion occurs, or what drives the rate of conversion. My guess it that, compared to any traditional diet, your intake is overweight in terms of EPA + DPA + DHA. I continue to wonder if this is an advantage or a concern?

    • Lots of digging. Unfortunately, no results. Which leads me to believe this must be a hardbound (maybe an old anthropological text?) reference that for whatever reason I’ve not been able to search for properly. Which sucks, because I’d really like to have that reference to defend that high dose against mainstream skepticism.

      And it may be that long-term high-dose use is ill-advised. It’s for sure cost prohibitive, lol… But maybe it can mimic the occasional gorging that our species adapted to. Which is, by the way, my argument for cyclic diets — keto, for example. Fasting. Or of anything, really.

  4. I was taking around 20 grams a day for several months but recently I started putting it on my food just like I do olive or coconut. You get used to the taste really fast. Love the sharp vision and uplifting feeling though sometimes I feel quite light headed. I use fish oil for dogs. It’s the only way I can afford it. Mainly salmon. got a quart of anchovy oil to try and find the taste bland which was surprising when you consider the taste of anchovys.

  5. Could you post a new link to the fish oil you use? The one in the body of the article is broken and when I type “Emerson’s Pure Fish Oil” directly into the search bar on their website, the results contain various products. Did they discontinue their fish oil? Thanks for any information.

    • Those remained unchanged. My cholesterol is always on the high side (which I’m not concerned with) and my trigs are very low.

  6. Thank you for this very informative experiment!
    I did some research and the 40 grams per day doesn’t seem actually that much. I actually take 10g/d and it reduced my blood pressure by 10 points (top and bottom numbers).

    Now to put this in perspective.
    A 100 gram Salmon portion contains 2.5 grams of omega 3, for which you would need to take 10 grams of fish oil (I’m looking at my costco bottle label, which states 250mg omega 3 per capsule which is 1g of fish oil).
    Hence, if you ate 500 grams of Salmon, which I would love to eat every day (^_^), you are in fact consuming 50 grams of fish oil, and about 12.5 grams of omega 3.
    That’s not even that much fish if you eat it for lunch and dinner, like half pound each meal.
    Swordfish and herring are above 1g omega3 per 100g as well, so you could mix it up a little if you want to stick to food sources.
    I found this encouraging and I will definitely add more fish oil daily to see if I can bring the blood pressure down even more
    Thanks again

  7. In reply to Craig:
    Craig asks: “So by 40 grams of fish oil, you mean enough fish oil to give you 40 grams of EPA plus DHA. That really is a megadose! Would it be possible, under any circumstance, to get that much via whole food sources? Is there any sort of paleo/evolutionary argument or case that we should be getting that much in our diet?

    Me (Justin): The best answer I heard about this question was from Charles Poliquin. He said that our ancestors had a higher intake (300-400g/day) because they ate the bone marrow and brain of the animals, first. To give some context: 36% of our brain is made up of DHA. Eating brain as your main course could justify those numbers. Hope this helps! Great question.

  8. Just thought I would leave my own personal experience with fish oil. I was in my early 30s when I began getting bronchitis. My kids were little and were always bringing home germs. I would get a normal cold, but the cough wouldn’t go away. Each time I got a cold, it turned into bronchitis, which stuck around for 3 months. The coughing was worse at nighttime, which I read could actually be a form of asthma. I ended up getting bronchitis 3 times in about 15 months. So about 9 of those months I had bronchitis. I was already taking 1 or two grams of fish oil to reduce inflammation, but then I read some info that that amount really isn’t enough to do very much–it is safe but you need to take a LOT more. So I started taking 10 grams a day. I didn’t get bronchitis again for 5 years or so, and the next time I got it it just lasted for about 3 weeks. Since then I’ve been anywhere between 5 to 12 grams a day. I’m currently taking 8. I’m just taking the Kirkland (Costco) brand, which I believe is like $8 for 1000 grams.

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