Nfld. & Labrador

Seal oil shows promise for healthy heart, researcher says

Consumers taking fish oil capsules for a daily hit of omega-3 fatty acids should consider seal oil capsules instead, a St. John's researcher says.

Consumers taking fish oil capsules for a daily hit of omega-3 fatty acids should consider seal oil capsules instead, a St. John's researcher says.

Sukhinder Cheema, a biochemistry professor at Memorial University, has been examining how hamsters react to fish and seal oils for about seven years.

"In my lab, using an animal model, I've found that seal oil is definitely better than fish oil," said Cheema.

Although she has not yet started human testing, she believes they would enjoy the same benefit.

"If anyone is consuming fish oil capsules, maybe they should switch to seal oil," she said.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to reduction in risk for heart disease.

But Cheema said her research also shows fish oil contains a lot of unwanted saturated fats. By contrast, seal oil has fewer saturated fats and is more easily absorbed by the body.

Cheema is planning to expand her research to include tests on humans, and said she hopes that research will lead to more than health benefits for people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I'm hoping that it should improve the economy in terms of seal oil production," she said.

Seal oil capsules have been distributed for decades, although they are overshadowed by trade in fur and sealskins — which also generate controversy during each year's hunt off Canada's East Coast.

The controversy, though, hasn't hurt local sales of seal oil, said Katie Butler, who works at the St. John's store Healthy Choices.

"Every year, when people are protesting the seal fishery, sales go through the roof," she said.