How important is the quality of your fish oil supplement? Turns out it’s very important, and I would argue quality trumps quantity any time you’re shopping for supplements.
One New York Times story covered the widespread labeling problems and fraud amongst discount, low-grade drug store supplement brands. Omega-3s are especially prone to quality issues because of how delicate polyunsaturated fats are.
What makes your fish oil supplement so sensitive?
Omega-3 fats are amazing for fighting inflammation and supporting brain health. But fish oil oxidizes really easily. That means these fats are easily damaged with even low levels of heat, exposure to light or air, or sitting too long on the shelf.
You’re taking fish oil to fight inflammation… but if it is oxidized, you may be contributing to inflammation. I talk a lot about how important getting animal-based omega-3 fatty acids from krill or fish oil is, but what if your source isn’t good enough?
In addition to being easily damaged, fish oil supplements aren’t always as potent as advertised. This study from New Zealand shows that fish oil supplements are often much less potent than the label claims. The study analyzed 32 different fish oil supplements, and only three of the brands investigated contained amounts of EPA and DHA equal to or greater than the labeled amount on the bottle.
Check it out:
Figure 1: The actual n-3 PUFA content (EPA + DHA) contained in individual retail fish oil products in relation to the claimed content (dotted line).
So how do I find the best fish oil?
- Skip the discount fish oil supplements from big-box stores and discount brands. You are better off taking less fish oil of higher quality than taking a lot of cheap, potentially oxidized fish oil.
- Try krill oil. It comes with antioxidants that help to protect it, and it is phosphorylated so your brain can use it better.
- Check a brand’s integrity by looking into their quality testing and processing methods. Your checklist third-party quality testing that includes: Freshness levels, purity levels, manufacturing process, sourcing, sustainability, heavy metal content, and (of course) EPA and DHA content.
- There is no U.S. government standard for fish oil quality. Check out fish oil supplements that adhere to the European Pharmacopoeia Standard (EPS) as well as the voluntary standards set by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega–3 (GOED).
- Store your fish oil in a dark spot, away from heat. Heat, light, and air easily degrade even the high-quality stuff! Mine lives in the fridge.
- Test the omega-3 supplements you already have: You can check to see if your fish oil is oxidized if you cut open a gel capsule, squirt the fat out onto a plate, and smell it. If it smells rotten, then it’s no good.
You are what you eat – or take in a pill! Do your homework when it comes to supplementation, or ask your functional medicine doctor which supplements they recommend. Doctors who know their stuff will generally only recommend products with the highest quality testing standards, which makes these nutrients more bioavailable and free from toxic crap.