Omega-3 Supplements Guide to Buying and Consuming Fish Oil
In this research-based guide on omega-3 supplements we will go through what you need to know about before buying your fish oil supplements.
In this article we will guide you through:
- The recommended daily omega-3 dosage (which depends on your health condition).
- Which types of oils containing those vital omega-3 fatty acids exist and which are considered most effective.
- What to elements to look for and be aware of when buying supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids
How Much Omega-3 or Do I Need Everyday?
Eat Fish at Least Twice a Week
Most authority sources recommend that the best way to get your daily dosage of omega-3 is by eating fish at least two times a week.
Fatty, oily cold-water fish are considered most beneficial as they are naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids. Examples of good omega-3 fish are wild caught salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and tuna (go here to find more examples of high omega-3 foods.
Daily Omega-3 Dosage Is About 500 mg (EPA + DHA) for Healthy Adults and Above 1000 mg for People with Heart Conditions or High Triglyceride Levels
If you’re not a fish person or you have certain health challenges e.g. cardiovascular disease or too high levels of triglycerides in your blood, omega-3 supplements in terms of e.g. fish oil capsules may be a good solution for you.
As is typically the case with most supplements, different authorities and different countries recommend different daily dosages.
Plus, the dosage also varies according your age and state of health thus healthy adults, kids, people with heart disease, pregnant women should all take different dosages.
On average the different countries and health authorities recommend that:
- Healthy adults with no heart problems should consume about 500 mg (EPA and DHA (EPA and DHA are the names of the important fatty acids found in e.g. marine animals) per day through either directly through fish or omega-3 supplements
- Kids (not infants or toddlers) should consume 200 mg of EPA and DHA per day all depending on their age; the older, the higher the dosage.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consume 100-200 mg of DHA per day
- People with coronary heart disease (CHD) should consume 1000 mg of EPA and DHA per day through fish and supplements with omega-3
- People with too high triglyceride levels should consume 2000 mg of EPA and DHA per day through fish or fish oil supplements: Under a doctor’s care dosage might be increased up to 4000 mg. You can read The American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendation of omega-3 EPA and DHA dosage scales for people with high triglyceride levels here
If you want to see the specific recommendations from your country in relation to your age and state of health you can find it here (however, you do need to make an account).
As you can see above, the recommendations for omega-3 are higher when you have heart problems or high triglyceride levels.
However, elevated omega-3 dosages can have side effects, so don’t raise your dosage without consulting your doctor. And if you’re pregnant or consider giving your child fish oil supplements make sure that everything is safe by talking with your doctor first.
What Kind Omega-3 Oil Should I Go for?
When it comes to choosing which kind of Omega-3 oil, you should go for, there are overall two types of categories: marine derived oils and vegetable oils.
Now seafood meat and vegetables contain different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids and some are simply more potent and needed by our body than others.
- Omega-3 from marine animals and algae contain the omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
These particular types of fatty acids are incredibly healthy for our body and you can also see that these are the omega-3 fatty acids that are mentioned in the daily dosage recommendations above.
- Omega-3 from plants such as some nuts, seeds and vegetables contain an omega-3 fatty acid called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). ALA is also considered a necessary component for optimal health but it’s not considered nearly as effective as EPA and DHA.
Thus linseed oil, hemp oil or walnut oil are great food supplements but cannot replace oil from fish or other seafood.
What’s Best? Fish Oil or Krill Oil?
Apparently, the form of the fatty acids affects how well it is absorbed in our body. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are typically seen as ethyl esters or triglycerides.
In krill (krill are crustaceans that look like small shrimps and they serve as food for many animals living in the sea) they are found in something called phospholipids and apparently this makes a difference when it comes to absorption.
Some studies seem to indicate that the DHA and EPA in krill is easier for our body to get a hold on. Because the DHA and EPA is present in the phospholipids, they go through the walls of the intestines much easier. Thus EPA and DHA are absorbed more efficiently.
However, studies of krill oil are still in their infancy and very little research has been done in relation to krill oil and cardiovascular disease.
What to Look For on the Label When Buying Omega-3 Supplements
There are several factors to look for or be aware of when you want to buy omega-3 supplements like e.g. fish oil.
At a quick glance the fish oil industry seems to be a jungle – there are so many products and it is very easy to get confused.
However, one big important step is to learn how to read the label. So make it into a habit of checking the label. ALWAYS read the label!
Here is a list of what to look for when you read that label:
Efficiency: High Amounts of EPA and DHA
By efficiency is meant how powerful and potent the active contents of the fish oil are. What we are looking for in this respect is the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in terms of EPA and DHA.
Particularly DHA seems to possess fabulous anti-inflammatory properties. And wild caught salmon is particularly high in DHA.
Again if you’re not a fish eater and can’t afford wild salmon (it’s very expensive) you might resort to fish oil supplements.
Below you’ll see some examples of labels also called “supplement facts” that you’ll find on the fish oil container. Notice the difference in EPA and DHA content for ONE capsule of fish oil.
So if you go with the product with the first supplement fact label, you want to take two capsules if you e.g. need 500 mg of EPA and DHA a day.
Freshness: Avoid Oxidation
There are certain signs that you can look for when checking if your fish oil is fresh or in more technical terms, hasn’t undergone an oxidation process.
Oxidation might happen if your fish oil has been exposed to oxygen, heat or light.
If the fish oil smells bad or the capsules seem discolorated, oxidation may have occurred. Some manufacturers try to conceal a potential rancid taste by ‘overwriting’ it with another taste, e.g. mint or lemon flavor. It’s not a guarantee that the flavor addition is a sign of a coverup but it could be.
Now other than tasting and smelling bad – what’s the problem with oxidation?
Well, first of all the effectiveness of the EPA and DHA will have diminished.
Secondly, oxidation in itself is process that ultimately may cause cell death. Now, that doesn’t sound nice. However, studies do seem to suggest that although oxidation in fish oil may be unpleasant, it does not pose a health threat in itself at least according to Labdoor.
Other sources are more concerned and also speak of the risk of pushing inflammation in the wrong direction. You may take fish oil for its inflammatory benefits and end up with increased inflammations. Obviously, not ideal.
Fortunately, there is something you can you can do yourself to prevent your fish oil from going rancid.
- Keep it cool, in fridge for instance.
- Consume it well before expiratory date.
- Vitamin E should prolong the freshness of the product – so check the label for that.
Purity: Low Levels of Toxins
If you want to get your omega-3 from eating fish or supplements there are different things, you need to be aware of when it comes to toxins.
If you decide to go with fish oil supplements, you need to check that the supplement meets the international standards for purity (heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs etc.) to make sure that the fish oil you buy has numbers well below what is allowed.
There are many interests at stake when testing the purity of fish oil. So make sure that the testing is done independently of 3-party interests.
For instance if I read a fish oil review on a fish oil company’s webpage, I would be somewhat sceptical and not trust the result without further backup from reliable sources – e.g. GOED (the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s ) which is a not-for profit trade association or CRN (Council for Responsible Nutrition).
Fortunate for us the consumers, there is something called a Certificate of Analysis (COA) which is a paper that shows whether the product meets the standards for toxins. Before buying you can always ask the company to see the COA. Remember to make sure that the COA has been made by a third party, too.
The purity standards from GOED and CRN are similar for the following toxins:
- PCB should have a limit of Maximum: 0.09 mg/kg
- Lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and in-organic arsenic (As) should each be less than 0.1 mg/kg
If you want to go the fish eating way, there are also ways to make sure not to flood your body with unhealthy toxins which is particularly important if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
First of all, larger fish at the top of the food chain like tuna or the king mackerel contain more heavy metals than smaller fish like sardines, anchovies and herring.
Secondly, some fish contain a mineral called selenium. Selenium is clever in the sense that it rids the body of heavy metals as it binds to mercury and thus makes it unable to become absorbed by our body.
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