Fish Oil Q & A
with Chris Mohr, PhD, RD
Why is fish oil so good for you?
Because fish oil is the best source of the omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Scientific research shows that our bodies need EPA and DHA for a healthy heart, joints, eyes, and a healthy brain and mood. But it's very difficult to get enough from food, even with a healthy diet. In fact, North Americans have among the lowest dietary intake of EPA and DHA in the world. By supplementing with a purified, high-quality fish oil supplement, you can make sure you get the EPA and DHA you need to achieve optimal health.
With so many fish oil products out there, how can you be sure that a fish oil product is safe and effective?
The one and only objective way to verify fish oil quality is third-party laboratory testing—always has been, always will be. Any manufacturer can claim that their fish oil is safe and effective, but only third-party testing can prove it. You can get the proof by requesting a certificate of analysis. Any reputable company should go out of their way to make their certificates of analysis available in order to substantiate their claims. There are three key third-party test results to look for, which separate high-quality fish oil from the rest: purity, freshness, and concentration/potency.
Why are purity, freshness, and concentration/potency the important third-party test results to look for on a certificate of analysis?
The purity of a fish oil product ensures your safety, protecting you from environmental toxins such as mercury, lead, dioxins, PCBs, and other contaminants that unfortunately exist in all fish and oceans. When reading a certificate of analysis for purity levels, the smaller the number, the purer the fish oil is from such toxins.
The freshness of a fish oil product is crucial to not just a pleasant taste but also to ensuring the product is effective, giving you the results you're looking for. That's because all fish oil is highly susceptible to oxidative rancidity, due to the delicate long-chain fatty acids it contains. Oxidative rancidity, which is measured as freshness levels, is not only the cause of fishy taste, smell, or burps, but also reduces the product's stability and bioavailability. When reading a certificate of analysis, the smaller the number, the fresher (less oxidized) the oil.
Concentration/potency ensures that the fish oil product contains enough omega-3s to get the health benefits you're looking for. If you have to take 3-5 times as many soft gels to get your needed dose of the omega-3s EPA and DHA, then inexpensive fish oil is clearly not a bargain at all. Experts recommend a minimum maintenance dose of 500 mg EPA+DHA per day, and many people with specific health challenges need as much as 2–4 grams a day.