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Best Fish Oil (Which Should I Take?)
What makes fish oils so special? Why are fish oils one of the most popular supplements consumed by Americans? 1 Most importantly, how do you know which fish oil is best suited for you?
When it comes to fish oils, with so many brands on the health food store shelves, it is a hard decision to choose the best high-quality product.
To help, here’s my guide to choosing the best omega-3 supplement for you.
Why Choose Fish Oil For Omega-3 Supplementation
The primary reason for choosing fish oil supplements is they are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Fish oils come from the tissue of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, or sardines. These fish contain high quantities of omega-3 which is very beneficial for our health.
Our bodies cannot produce this ‘essential’ fatty acid, so we need to get omega-3 from our diets. The best way is to eat foods rich in omega-3s, like oily fish, or to supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids are used by the body for digestion, cell division and growth, muscle activity, blood clotting, and fertility – all important functions in the body. 2
Health authorities have long recommended to supplement with omega-3 to give protective effects against many diseases such as coronary heart disease. 3
Guide to Choosing The Best Fish Oil Supplements
What should you look for when choosing a brand of fish oil? The best quality supplements should be pure, from a sustainable source, and have at least 1,000 mg EPA+DHA omega-3 fatty acids per serving.
Let’s break this down so you know what information to look for on the labelling.
The quantity of oil per capsule varies anywhere between 100 mg – 2000mg. The National Institute for Health (NIH) recommend 1000 mg or more as an adequate daily intake of omega-3.4
The quantity of EPA+DHA per serving will be listed on the label; ideal quantities to look for are 180mg EPA, 120mg DHA per 1000mg capsule of fish oil. As a result, opting for a greater quantity of EPA+DHA per capsule means you get a more quality fish oil.
Over-fishing of an individual species of fish can be catastrophic to the ocean ecosystem. When taking fish oils, a key point is a product that uses sustainable practices. Make sure to look for a brand that’s certified as fish oil coming from an ethical source.
Fish oil brands that are certified to the Marine Steward Council (MSC) Standard and displaying the MSC ecolabel, ensure harvesting and manufacturing uses eco-friendly techniques.
Since nutritional supplements are not regulated by the FDA, label claims can be misleading. This makes it harder for the consumer to know the quality of the product they’re buying. This is where a third party stamp of approval is important. As fish oil products are not created equal, testing by accredited third party companies guarantee:
- Purity & Potency
- Label accuracy
Companies and organizations seal of approval to look for are:
- Labdoor – an independent supplement testing company that checks labelling accuracy, product purity testing for contaminants such as heavy metals, nutritional value, and if the product meets or exceeds Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). Also, Labdoor looks at the ingredient safety including additives and their potential effect on our health and the Projected Efficacy score the bioavailability and concentration of a product’s active ingredients. 7
- Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) – A non-profit trade organization that sets strict quality and purity standards to help ensure consumers get a safe and high quality omega-3 oil in the products they purchase. 8
- The International Fish Oil Standards Program (IFOS) – Purely for fish oils, this program tests for active ingredients, contaminants, and freshness assuring product labelling information is accurate. This test gives consumers an easy way to compare brand labelling before purchase. 9
- United States Pharmacopeia (USP) – The USP tests medicines and dietary supplements and sets high standards. The approved products carry the ‘USP Verified’ label. 10
#4 Triglyceride (TG) or ethyl ester (EE) omega-3s?
Marketed fish oils are available in either triglyceride (TG) or ethyl ester (EE) form. Brands marketing their product as a “natural grade fish oil” are the TG form.
The TG form contains a lower concentration of EPA and DHA per serving. However, some well-respected brands process the fish oil using water and clay filters to create a high-quality TG form supplement with concentrated levels of EPA and DHA fatty acids.
Since the volume of EPA and DHA is desired to be higher, many manufactures use a cheaper refining method. The raw fish oil gets treated with chemicals to separate the essential fatty acids from the other fats. This process adds ethanol resulting in the EE form to get a higher concentration of EPA and DHA. The resulting product is labelled and sold as ‘a fish oil concentrate’.
It is claimed the form of fish oil determines the bioavailability – how well our body can absorb and use the supplement. A study showed a higher increase in omega-3 EPA and DHA concentrations when consumed as TG compared to EE.11
Price can be an indicator to the quality of fish oil supplement. Obvious bargains might not give you the recommended 1000mg in one dose; when calculating the quantity of serving required, this may not work out as particularly cost effective.
Check the product label for the quantity of EPA and DHA per dose as well as the fish oil form – TG or EE.
Bit of an obvious one, but be sure to check the manufacture date and expiration date on the label. Make sure you will finish the quantity before it expires! Always store fish oil supplements in a cool dark place. I keep mine in the fridge!
Fatty acid oils are highly prone to oxidative degradation by light, oxygen exposure, and heat. Studies have shown that omega-3 supplements contain oxidized lipids. These lipids actually undermine the benefits you’re supposed to get from taken the fish oil supplement. 12 13
There is a lot of talk about mercury and other pollutants found in fish and the chances of these toxins filtering down into the supplements consumers purchase.
Choosing fish oils made from herring, mackerel, krill, and other small fish are less likely to contain environmental toxins as they are lower on the food chain. Manufacturing filtration processes removes undesirable toxins such as heavy metals, PCB’s, and dioxins, and testing by The International Fish Oil Standards Program (IFOS) helps to assure quality and purity.
Should You Take Fish Oil?
Fish oils are suitable for anyone wanting to supplement a diet to make sure they are taking the recommended daily intake of omega-3, especially if you do not eat fresh fish.
Are Fish Oils Safe?
Fish oil supplements are safe when taken as recommended. However, fish oil may cause some side effects such as: bad breath, belching, indigestion, loose stools, and nausea.
Fish oils should be taken with food as this aids in nutrient absorption and helps decrease side effects. As with all fatty acid supplements, they should not be taken prior to exercise.14
Like all things in life, moderation is key. Taking a high dose of fish oil might increase an individual’s risk of bleeding and the body’s ability to keep blood from clotting.15
Fish oils can interact with certain prescription medications and it is recommended to consult your health practitioner prior to use. Possible interactions are:
- Blood thinning medications (anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs) such as warfarin. Fish oils might slow blood clotting and this could lead to an increased risk of bleeding.
- Blood pressure medications (anti-hypertensive drugs). Fish oil lowers blood pressure and taken alongside blood lowering medication could cause blood pressure levels to be too low.
- Birth control pills (contraceptive drugs). The effectiveness of the fish oil can be diminished by certain contraceptive drugs.
If you have a known allergy to fish or shellfish, it’s advisable to avoid fish oil supplements.
The Final Word
Try not to be tempted by bulk offers; good fish oil is quality over quantity, and not all products are created equal. Do label checking to look for the industry standards we discussed above that show the brand has been tested for purity, potency, and overall quality to help you choose the best fish oil.
This is our guide to fish oil. Check out our other installments:
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