freshly caught fish

Are you confused about supplements? Over the last few months we have been told by some researchers and medical thought leaders that vitamin E and fish oil were a waste of money and possibly even dangerous. Three weeks ago, however, we were informed that 2000 IU of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) could slow the decline of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (JAMA, Jan 1, 2014).

This week an article in the journal Neurology suggests that women with higher levels of omega-3 fats (the type of fat found in fish oil) in their red blood cells have less brain atrophy as they age. The lead author implies that this could lead to better brain function and less dementia.

Most nutrition experts usually say that we should get our nutrients from food rather than pills. That’s certainly been the case with the new fish oil study. We’re told to eat fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, sardines and herring. But the study in Neurology looked at levels of omega-3 fatty acids inside red blood cells. The scientists didn’t distinguish between those omega-3s that came from fish or omega-3s from supplements.

What they discovered was that the participants in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study who had the highest levels of omega-3 fats had larger brain volumes than those with the lowest levels of omega-3 fats. In particular, the part of the brain most intimately tied to memory (the hippocampus) was measurably larger on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). The lead author noted that you would have to eat fatty fish at least twice a week or take a fish oil supplement at least five times a week to get comparable levels of omega-3 fatty acids circulating throughout the body.

This was a long-term study with eight years of follow up. In general, larger brain volume is better than smaller brain volume. As the brain atrophies or shrinks, cognitive function tends to decline.

This study of fish oil comes on the heels of a January 1, 2014 study published in The Journal of The American Medical Association showing that vitamin E (2000 IU) was beneficial in slowing the decline of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, one of the more commonly prescribed drugs, Namenda (memantine) was ineffective in this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.


We are the first to encourage people to get their nutrients from food. Whenever possible, shop locally at a farmer’s market. But not everyone can afford two fatty fish meals a week. And some people hate the taste of fish or are vegetarians. The only way for them to get levels of omega-3 fatty acids comparable to those in the study would be to take supplements. And no matter how many green leafy vegetables you eat, there is no way to get close to the 2000 IU of vitamin E that was given out in the study without taking a supplement.

From our vantage point, there is growing evidence to suggest that both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E are important nutrients for optimal brain health. Regular exercise is also extremely important, since previous research shows it can help delay cognitive decline.

What are your thoughts? Share your comments below.


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  1. Laura

    Someone you interviewed recommended Vectomega fish oil. Do you know if that pill has been evaluated by Consumer Labs or another outside lab for purity etc?

    • Terry Graedon

      Sorry. I don’t remember hearing that brand name, but a check of shows they have not evaluated it.

  2. Jean McRae

    Fish oil is very good for brain. I like to eat fish very much

  3. Cindy M. B.

    A FEW NOTES ON FISH OIL: First, it seems absolutely SILLY to eschew fish oil supplements just because you’re vegan or veggie… Good Grief! The stiff is pretty far removed from the actual fish by the time it’s processed into oil.
    Second, I too was alarmed by the recent reports that fish oil could be ineffective, even damaging to one’s health. I was told by SEVERAL people “in the know” that YES THAT’S TRUE… but it’s all because of the oil possibly going rancid at room temperatures before it’s consumed. IF IT GOES RANCID, then apparently yes, it can be damaging. So, you should ALWAYS keep your fish oil supplements in the fridge after opening. Nutritionists say there is some kind of “vacuum sealing” that’s done with fish oils that keeps them fresh before opening, so just keep unopened bottles in a cool dark place and they should be fine. In the summer, I usually put even unopened bottles in the fridge just to be on the safe side. NORDIC NATURALS are supposed to be the best fish oils for not going rancid.
    Third, I don’t think it’s necessary to stress over the exact dosage one should take q day. I take 2 or 3 krill oil capsules per day and it seems to work fine for me (I’m 66). Whatever the brand, I just follow the recommended dosage on the bottle and add a bit more. I’ve had many, many sports injuries, broken bones, strains, sprains, torn ligaments, etc… and I still ski EXPLOSIVELY and also distance swim, bike, hike, etc. I owe my joint health to fish oil and hyaluronic acid, as both those things help lubricate the joints besides providing many other good benefits.

  4. mary

    JBG- thank you, I will be on the hunt for the sardines from Canada. Now please salmon patty recipes would be greatly appreciated. AND if there are some without breadcrumbs, daughter gluten sensitivity. Probably put quinoa in coffee grinder to substitute wheat?
    But need more on this.
    Thank you, mary

  5. JBG

    Mary, re sardines, both Beach Cliff and Brunswick sardines are from Canada. We use the ones packed in water.

  6. JBG

    Mary — We eat a single, super-simple recipe, given below. To find more complicated things, Google on strings like:
    bumble bee pink salmon recipes
    There are slews of recipes out there.
    Combination Meal — Cover a big hunk of the day’s nutrition in one swipe. We make four or eight at once and refrigerate them. Adjust proportions to suit taste.
    ¼ can of pink salmon
    ½ cup of cooked greens (turnip. collard, mustard, beet, kale, or chard)
    ½ cup of cooked orange vegetable (yam, winter squash, pumpkin, carrots)
    1/3 cup of canned beets (Freshlike Sliced Beets are low on salt and sugars)
    1/3 cup of chopped onions, cooked or raw
    1/3 cup of tomato puree
    2 ounces of mushrooms, cooked or raw
    1 tablespoon of olive oil
    1 ounce of apple cider vinegar
    Mix up with a tablespoon. Serve microwaved or cold as desired.
    We cycle through both the greens and the orange vegetables since the nutrients vary.
    The mushrooms are included only occasionally. They powerfully suppress estradiol (often good for men).
    Greens can be frozen or fresh. Organic is best since greens are often strongly pesticided.

  7. mary

    JBG, All good suggestions. However, Mom tried to feed us canned salmon and to this day I have trouble eating it still.
    Perhaps you would share some recipes because this a perfect low cost solution.
    Although I have 2 cans in the pantry I push them aside every time I see them.
    Would really love to be eating it.
    [Especially with Wild caught Alaskan selling for 17.99/lb.]
    As for the sardines I have a problem with only finding those from Asian countries, and that makes me feel uncomfortable. Any particular brand you recommend?

  8. mary

    Well ,I am confused again.
    1–Fish Oil: At this time I have been taking 2 capsules of Nature Made 1200mg. Fish Oil.
    Mostly take 2 because I do not do it consistently.
    Front label reads:
    360 mg. OMEGA-3.
    Back label reads
    Fish oil concentrate 2400 mg.,
    Total Omega 3 fatty acids= 720 mg.,
    Omega 3 EPA = 360 mg.,
    Omega 3 DHA = 240 mg.,
    Omega 3 ”Other”[?] = 120 mg.
    I am now insecure about the equation AND the brand.
    One comment spoke about ADHD, which is certain I have. Although the ‘H’ has greatly lessened, still the ADD. In that comment it is said higher DHA is needed.
    In Neurology the talk is of high Red Blood Cell EPA needed.
    Have I missed somewhere what the best equation is, because I am unable to find any info on that. Thought I was set, now worried.
    While trying to do the best, do not want to do harm.
    Plus the expense if not taking the right thing.
    2-Andrew Weil sometime ago [?] recommended 200 [IU? mg.?] Vitamin E. Then there was bad press so I stopped. Now here it says 2000 IU necessary!
    Please help me figure out what and how much I should be taking of each.
    Whether the fish oil is the correct equation for a 65 year old, or what it should be.
    And when the vit. E requirements changed.
    Clarification would certainly help my anxiety on this subject…
    Thank you for all you do to help us all,

    • Tom-Tom
      Greenville, NC

      Vit. E is the >only< vitamin that I can actually feel its effects=memory. All of the other vitamins and minerals I take each day… well, I am hoping that they will be effective in helping me live a healthy & long life. (Now and then I'll eat a 1/4th teaspoon of table salt. I can feel that "change" me for a few hours –but do only once in a while.) Now to go try some rubbing alcohol under my arm. That to help with odor actually sounds like it -might- work!

  9. JBG

    “… not everyone can afford two fatty fish meals a week.”
    Sure they can. Canned pink salmon sells for less than $4 a can, and a can provides four servings. In our area, both CVS and Walgreens have frequent sales when the price drops to $2.50, or even $2. And salmon is delicious. We eat it, not two times a week, but every day.
    Look for “wild Alaska” on the label. Wild Alaska salmon is highest quality, and it comes from a sustainable, well-managed fishery. Mercury levels in salmon are usually so low as to be undetectable.
    If you buy fresh salmon, be sure it is wild-caught Pacific salmon. Most Atlantic salmon is farmed — low quality and environmentally damaging.
    Sardines are another option at about $1 a can/serving, especially useful for picnics/camping/traveling. Again, fishing stocks of sardines are generally copious and resilient, and mercury levels are negligible.

  10. pp

    For men, flaxseed oil has good things for the prostate. My husband takes that instead of the fish oil. To answer someone else’s question, flaxseed capsules are available in the same places you can get fish oil–Walmart, etc. or mail order

  11. mary

    For years I took Vit. E, then read it is not good. I am unable to recall the reasoning but it was convincing enough for me to stop.
    It has been many years since I have taken 200 mg[?] or could have been units–do not remember.
    Here in 2014 it is again recommended…….more confusion.
    Please confirm Vit. E is necessary and the exact type or formula, and amount.
    I need to get on the right track with the right amount and type of Vit. D [3 only, or 2 as well?] as well as the Vit. E.
    Perhaps I am not reading the articles correctly and it is not as difficult as it seems to me?
    Joe and Terry, please put my mind at ease and give me some direction!
    Thank you

  12. phyllis66

    I also had that problem w/fish oil. My Dr. suggested I keep my FishOil in my freezer. It worked. Try it and be amazed.

  13. phyllis66

    I could not take fish oil capsules. I could not keep that taste from my mouth. When I belched,it would be that horrible taste…. I cannot stand fish of any kind.
    When I asked my Dr. if there was something else I could take,she told me to try keeping my fish oil in my freezer. That would make it easy to swallow and that fishy taste would stay in my stomach and not come up.
    IT WORKED! She was right. A great suggestion . Try it and be surprised

  14. phyllis66

    I could not take fish oil capsules. I could not keep that taste from my mouth. When I belched,it would be that horrible taste…. I cannot stand fish of any kind.
    When I asked my Dr. if there was something else I could take,she told me to try keeping my fish oil in my freezer. That would make it easy to swallow and that fishy taste would stay in my stomach and not come up.
    IT WORKED! She was right. A great suggestion . Try it and be surprised,,,,,,,,,,

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