Clever capsules may spell disaster for kids

| Post published on August 9, 2006
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Fish oil capsule

Viva Health is shocked and appalled on hearing plans to provide more than 5,000 year 11 school pupils in County Durham with fish oil supplements which may harm health rather than improve it. Dr Justine Butler, health campaigner for the Viva Health says “Our main concern is that as a result of widespread industrialisation, all the world’s oceans are polluted with toxic substances such as mercury, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – which have entered the food chain. This is why the government recommends that girls and women who might have a baby one day and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding limit their intake of oily fish to two portions per week“. A major review by Dr Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia published earlier this year in the British Medical Journal looked at the effects of fish oil on heart health. One study Hooper’s team reviewed showed an increased risk of heart attack in men who took fish oil capsules. Hooper’s team suggested that the harmful effects of pollutants could build up over time to increase the risk of heart problems.

In other words the damaging effects of mercury, dioxins and PCBs in fish may outweigh the beneficial effects of the “good’ omega-3 fats. “The fish oil supplement companies insist that these pollutants are removed during processing,” says Dr Butler but do you want your children to take the risk? In March 2006, the fish oil supplement manufacturer Seven Seas Ltd withdrew a number of batches of its own fish oil supplements because the levels of dioxins present exceeded statutory levels, less than a month later Boots too withdrew fish oil capsules for the same reason. In both cases the government’s Food Standards Agency assured us that” there is no health risk associated with consumption of this product, although the level of dioxins found exceeds statutory limits’. These toxic pollutants are implicated in heart disease, cancer, infertility and can harm developing foetuses. To claim there is asafe’ dose is irresponsible, particularly where children are concerned“. “The good news is you don’t have to eat neurotoxins and carcinogens to get your omega-3 fats, there are safer plant sources including flax seed (linseed), rapeseed and soya oil, walnuts and leafy green vegetables. This benefits the environment as well; flax is a sustainable crop, fish are not. About one million tons of fish oil is produced around the world each year, this is unsustainable. This experiment could lead to an environmental and health catastrophe! Instead of looking for a magic bullet to improve our kids brain power, we should be encouraging them to eat better foods – less junk and more whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables“.

For further information contact Dr Justine Butler at the VVF on 0117 970 5190 or email justine@vegetarian.org.uk  References Hooper et al., 2006. Risks and benefits of omega 3 fats for mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review. BMJ. 332 (7544) 752-60. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov http://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/alerts/2006/mar/sevenseasupdate1 http://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/alerts/2006/apr/bootsfishoil

About the author
Dr. Justine Butler
I joined Viva! as a health campaigner in 2005 after graduating from Bristol University with a PhD in molecular biology. My scientific training helped me research and write numerous reports, guides and fact sheets for Viva! including Meat the Truth, Fish-Free for Life, One in Nine (breast cancer and diet) and the substantial report on the detrimental health effects of consuming dairy; White Lies. This accompanied Viva!’s report The Dark Side of Dairy which spelt out the inherent cruelty of dairy farming. We were the first UK group to take on the dairy industry in this way, and many of our supporters go vegan after reading these reports.

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