Many people are taking fish oil for cardiovascular concerns, inflammation, neurological function, mood, pregnancy, or just because they don’t eat fish in their diet. It’s one of the most common supplements I see self-prescribed and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. But, not all brands make comparably therapeutic fish oil, meaning the components in it, namely the EPA and DHA, aren’t up to snuff. Here’s what to look for.
The label on a fish oil will be divided into a few things: Total fish oil, EPA, and DHA. The total fish oil just says how much is in there.
EPA is what you want for inflammation, cardiovascular health, or mood and mental disorders such as depression. The dose here varies depending on what the concern is but the range is about 1,000 to 2,000 mg of EPA alone (always ask your healthcare provider when dosing the higher end of the range to see if it’s right for you, or if you’re on other meds or supplements). To compare, a typical generic brand has about 300-500mg of EPA per dose or serving.
DHA is often used for neurological support and growth, so in pregnancy a higher DHA supplement can help build babe’s brain. Use of DHA in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s prevention can be beneficial, though the evidence is conflicting. In most supplements, DHA is in a lower ratio than EPA so keep that in mind if you want a supplement beefed up (er, fished up?) with DHA.
Many of the generic brands will have a high amount of total fish oil and boast a high content of ‘omega-3s’ however they combine the total of EPA and DHA to make this number meaning the actual amount of those omega-3s are quite lower than that. Make sure you check the actual nutrition label as opposed to sticking with the health claim on the bottle!
Aside from dosing issues, there's quality and contamination issues to be aware of. Mercury is something a lot of people ask me about which thankfully isn't an issue with fish oil supplements. Contamination with PCBs is, unfortunately, a bit more common.
If you decide to go the fish-eating route, ensure you're actually relying on cold-water, fatty fish. Use the acronym SMASH: Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovy, Sardine, Herring. I tend to think sushi. Consult SeaChoice for help on choosing sustainable and healthy fish options!