Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Of doctors, nutritional nonsense, and tweets

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I stumbled across a tweet from a doctor in the US last week and was so surprised by it that I did a little Internetting to determine if this tweeter was a licenced MD. Yep, she was. Now I’m not going to use her name because, perhaps (although based on Rate my MD, it seems unlikely) she’s a far better physician than she is a tweeter. My aim is not to attack her. My aim to to combat the outrageous information she’s tweeting. So… What’s she been saying?

The first tweet I saw said:

… Along with flax seeds, throw some China seeds into smoothies or yogurt. No flashes!

Wow. Who knew, all you have to do to prevent hot flashes during menopause is to include chia (I assume that’s what she meant by “China” – hey, typos happen to the best of us!) seeds in our diets. Is this true? Maybe. Although I’m highly doubtful that it’s that simple and as far as I can tell there’s been no published research on the subject. There are some studies of chia and weight loss in post-menopausal women but none investigating the effect of chia seed consumption on hot flashes during menopause. There is some anecdotal “evidence” on the Internet extolling the benefits of chia seeds for reduction/elimination of menopause symptoms. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with incorporating chia seeds into your diet at any stage of life, no sensible health care professional would be providing this unsolicited, unsubstantiated advice on social media.

Scrolling through the docs timeline I came across a few other gems. How about?:

Those of you with hypothyroidism should be taking iodine and selenium supplements to help the conversion of T4 to T3.Helps metabolism

Um. No. The only reason for those with hypothyroidism to take iodine supplements is when the condition is caused by iodine deficiency, which is rare in North America (1). There may be benefits to selenium supplementation for those with hypothyroidism. However, there may also be risks associated with long-term supplementation and supplements should be discussed with your primary health care practitioner, not undertaken upon the advice of a tweet.

There are more horrifying tweets but I have to stop somewhere. One last one:

HIgh cholesterol? You are eating too much refined carbs ie #BREAD, white rice, potatoes and not enough fat ie #butter, fatty fish.#krilloil!

High cholesterol has many causes. Not least of which is heredity. Yes, there are lifestyle efforts we can all undertake to reduce our risk of elevated LDL (low density lipoproteins AKA “Bad cholesterol). However, these will only go so far and some people can lead extremely healthy lifestyles and still have high LDL. While it’s likely that saturated fats are not the evil, cholesterol raising nutrients we once believed them to be there is also no reason to think that increasing consumption of them will reduce blood cholesterol levels. The evidence is not there to support supplementation with krill oil either. As for the refined carbs the doctor lists, unless she’s referring to potato chips or french fries there’s no reason to diss potatoes. In fact, potatoes are one of the most under-rated foods.

Guys, be cautious. You’ve all seen Doctor Oz. He’s not the only doctor spewing nutrition nonsense. Question everything you read.


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Krill oil vs fish oil

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I get a lot of questions about omega-3 supplements. Generally these are from fish oil. However, there’s been more interest in the less common krill oil expressed recently.

Krill are tiny little crustaceans. Fish obtain their omega-3s from eating plankton, as do krill. I’d heard that krill oil may be a superior source of omega-3s in comparison to traditional fish oil.

Krill oil actually contains less EPA and DHA (the essential omega-3 fatty acids we aim to obtain from supplements) than fish oils. 1, 000 mg of krill oil generally contains 230-300 mg of omega-3s; 140-160 mg EPA, and 80-90 mg DHA. Compare that to a 1, 000 mg fish oil supplement: 500 mg EPA and 333 mg DHA. However, amounts tend to vary widely between brands and varieties and it’s important to ensure you’re looking at the dose you’ll be taking (many will advise you to take multiple capsules each day which is unnecessary). Advocates for krill oil will tell you that the omega-3s in it are better absorbed than the omega-3s in fish oil. However, there’s not yet any evidence to support this (1).

There may be other benefits to krill oil, such as antioxidant properties. However, as with the previous claim, there is insufficient research to make any claims at this time (2).

One benefit of krill oil that is likely true is that it won’t give you the “fishy burps” that other omega-3 supplements may. If this is a concern to you it’s still avoidable when taking fish oil supplements. Look for supplements that have “enteric coating”. This means that they’ll survive your stomach acid intact and dissolve in your intestine so that they won’t be able to come back to haunt you. You should also take your supplement before your meal, or on an empty stomach, to decrease the transit time.

I had thought that fish oil supplements might be at greater risk of mercury contamination as the fish are considerably larger than the krill. A study showed that fish oil supplements range from no contamination to negligible contamination, rendering that an useless theory.

Other differences between krill oil and fish oil supplements: krill oil tends to be pricier. Also, as krill are crustaceans, krill oil supplements are not safe for sufferers of shellfish allergies.

Bottom line: krill oil may be equally beneficial to fish oil as an omega-3 supplement. It may even have additional benefits. However, the research is not there to support any additional claims. You may want to try krill oil if you’re willing to take a gamble on those additional benefits and if you’re not budget conscious. If you’d rather save your pennies, stick with a high-quality fish oil supplement. And, as always, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any supplements, especially if you’re taking any other kind of medication.