Omega 3 Fish Oil --
Everything You Want To Know
But Were Afraid To Ask
Omega 3 fish oil is the good fatty acid. There are good types of fat (omega 3s) and bad types (omega 6s). Omega 3s are the really good ones and fish just happens to be the best and most abundant source.
Why is fish oil so good for us? What are its benefits, side effects, and quality issues? How much do we need daily and how much can we safely take? Are fish oil supplements as good as fish itself? Does the FDA require uniformity in supplements? How can we find the best supplement brands? What is the best brand of omega 3 fish oil?
These are the typical questions I hear when it comes to discussing the importance of adding omega 3 fish oil to a person’s diet. Each question is answered in order below, as well as the best brand of fish oil supplement based on my research.
Why is omega 3 fish oil so good for us?
Fish oil is the recommended source of essential omega 3 fatty acids (called "essential" because, like vitamins, the body needs them and cannot make them). Thus, we need to be sure we get enough from our diets or from the best fish oil supplements.
Omega 3s consist of seven fatty acids. The two principal fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are found in fish. DHA can also be obtained from other marine sources, such as algae. EPA and DHA are polyunsaturated fats (“good” fats, as opposed to saturated fats that are thought to increase the risk of heart disease). The body can manufacture both EPA and DHA from another essential fatty acid, ALA (alpha linolenic acid) -- found in vegetable oils (flaxseed, canola, linseed, olive, soy) and walnut oil – but only to a limited extent.
Omega 3 fish oil is considered the best source of EPA and DHA, which seem to be the most beneficial fatty acids, according to scientific research.
What are the benefits of omega 3 fish oil?
Over 4,500 research studies on the effects on overall health of omega-3’s have been conducted in the last 25 years. Research shows that high levels of EPA and DHA--the two primary omega 3s--promote cardiovascular health, help retain normal blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and support brain, visual and joint function.
Health benefits documented on MedlinePlus (a service of the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health) from multiple studies shows good to strong evidence that taking recommended amounts of DHA and EPA in the form of dietary fish or fish oil supplements:
- lowers triglycerides
- reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease
- slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques ("hardening of the arteries")
- lowers blood pressure slightly
- reduces stiffness and joint tenderness associated with Rheumatoid arthritis
Non conclusive studies show that an omega 3 fish oil supplement may also help improve or prevent the following:
- Alzheimer's disease and dementia
- heart disease
What are the side effects of omega 3 fish oil?
For the most part, fish oil has no significant side effects and is regarded as safe up to 3 grams daily, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Caution may be warranted, however, in diabetic patients due to potential (albeit unlikely) increases in blood sugar levels, patients at risk of bleeding, or in those with high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
If you are pregnant, allergic to fish, or already have any kind of known health issues, you should check with your doctor first as a precaution.
The following side effects may be minimized or eliminated completely by using a high quality fish oil supplement as opposed to the most economical (you get what you pay for): Gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, increased burping, acid reflux/heartburn/indigestion, abdominal bloating/pain, and fishy aftertaste. Gastrointestinal side effects can be minimized if fish oils are taken with meals and if doses are started low and gradually increased.
What are the quality issues of omega 3 fish oil?
Toxic chemical contamination of the food chain in oceans, lakes, rivers and streams is the most significant quality issue in fish oil, whether eating fish or using supplements.
Fish accumulate toxins such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, dioxins and PCBs. Mercury can damage the nervous system—particularly in a fetus. Dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, banned by Congress in 1979) may be carcinogens at low levels of exposure over time and may have other deleterious effects.
The freshness of the oil is also an important consideration in a fish oil supplement because rancid fish oils have an extremely unpleasant odor and may not be as effective. Additionally, some fish oil capsules are enteric coated or are strategically designed to release the oil after passing through the stomach to reduce fishy breath odor. If they release too soon, they lose that potential benefit. If they release too late, the oil may be not absorbed.
Geographical source control and the use of species of fish that are less likely to accumulate toxins are both important quality issues. The distillation processes used in processing fish oil for contaminant removal is of utmost importance when taking a fish oil supplement.
How much omega 3 fish oil do we need and can safely take daily?
The FDA classifies intake of up to 3 grams (3,000 mg) per day of omega-3 fatty acids from fish as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe). A daily serving of most fish oil supplements contain 1 gram or less of omega 3s.
The recommended omega 3 fish oil dosage can vary, depending on why you are taking the supplements. It's best to take fish oil only under your healthcare provider's supervision. Because these products can vary in the amount of omega-3 fatty acid they contain (See paragraph below labeled Does the FDA require uniformity in supplements), the recommended doses are usually described in terms of omega 3 content. In particular, doses of fish oil should be measured based on the content of two particular omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA.
To reduce the risk of heart disease for healthy adults with no history of heart disease: the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating two servings of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) each week. A 4 ounce serving of salmon, for example, is about 1.5 grams of omega 3s. But most Americans eat fish only three times per month or less. For Americans who do not eat fish at all or in recommended amounts, the AHA recommends using fish oil capsules daily (servings of about 1 gram of EPA/AHA combined) as an alternative.
For adults with coronary heart disease: The AHA recommends an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (as fish oils), 1 gram daily of EPA and DHA. It may take 2 - 3 weeks for benefits of fish oil supplements to be seen.
For adults with high cholesterol levels: The AHA recommends an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (as fish oils), 2 - 4 grams daily of EPA and DHA. It may take 2 - 3 weeks for benefits of fish oil supplements to be seen.
Are omega 3 fish oil supplements as good as fish itself?
Are fish oil supplements as good as fish itself?
The answer is: Yes. In fact, fish oil supplements may be better than fist itself, for the following reasons:
- Fish oil capsules publish the measured quantity of EPA. AHA and other omega 3 fatty acids on their labels.
- Most Americans do not consume the recommended minimum amount of fish weekly, and if they do, the species they’re eating may not contain the recommended 1 gram daily of EPA and AHA.
- Fish oil supplements have been processed to remove contaminants making them a safer alternative.
Does the FDA require uniformity in supplements?
A fish oil capsule is a dietary supplement. The FDA does not require uniformity in dietary supplements. Even the current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), the FDA’s newest rules governing the industry, does not require uniformity in the testing methods companies use on raw materials, nor require efficacy (double blind, placebo controlled clinical proof that a product actually works!)
Unlike prescription drugs, which require rigid adherence to uniformity, there is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of supplements, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels (see How can I find the best supplements brands? below).
If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting any new therapy.
How can I find the best omega 3 fish oil brands?
When considering a fish oil capsule, read the label and the serving size. The amount of EPA and DHA contained in the supplement is the important statistic, not the total amount of fish oil. The better brands should total approximately 1 gram (900 to 1100 mg) EPA/DHA combined per serving size.
The concentrations of EPA and DHA in fish oil supplements currently sold vary by as much as ten fold—from just 8% to 79% per capsule according to industry watchdog, ConsumerLab. Concentration depends on the source of the omega 3s, how the oil is processed, and the amounts of other ingredients included in the supplement.
If you are trying to get as much EPA or DHA from the smallest serving size (i.e., fewer or smaller capsules), look for supplements with higher concentrations of EPA and DHA per serving size. A more concentrated product will generally allow you to ingest less total fish oil.
The best fish oil supplements will contain a full spectrum of seven naturally occurring omega 3 fatty acids, including EPA. DHA, alpha-linolenic (ALA), docosapentaenoic, stearidonic, eicosatetraenoic and heneicosapentaenoic acids.
Processing of the fish oil supplement is its final test. The best fish oil brands are pharmaceutical grade (stated on the label) and have been purified to remove contaminants.
What is the best brand of omega 3 fish oil?
I believe to find the best supplement brand you must first find the best supplement company. My husband and I have used the same company for over 20 years for whole food vitamins and arthritis supplements, including fish oil. I developed a list of 30 questions (modified somewhat over the years) that helped us find this industry leader.
This omega 3 fish oil sets a new standard in purity and full-spectrum potency:
- Ultra-pure, pharmaceutical-grade fish oil made with a proprietary triple molecular distillation process. Concentrates beneficial omega 3s while helping remove contaminants such as lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, dioxins, and PCBs
- Suppresses formation of dangerous trans fats for a healthier fish oil
- Minimizes odor and fishy aftertaste
- Uses no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives
- A full spectrum of seven naturally occurring omega 3 fatty acids including EPA, DHA, ALA and more.
- Contains higher levels of EPA and DHA than leading brands
It is for these reasons that I confidently recommend the brand that I trust and what I consider as the finest omega 3 fish oil.
*Omega-3 Fish Oil Disclaimer: Health statements on this page have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease
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