Taking fish oil? Are you noticing results?
When it comes to the effectiveness of any omega-3 supplement, there are three key factors you need to address:
1. Proper fish oil dosage
2. Freshness of the oil
3. Range of nutrients in the supplement
Please take a moment to go grab your fish oil supplement, if you’re taking one, and then keep reading to find out if your fish oil is living up to your expectations.
Omega-3s are made up of a spectrum of nutritional components, including EPA and DHA, two polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). EPA and DHA are the powerful workhorses of the omega-3 family. And to make a noticeable difference in your health, the daily fish oil dosage for adults is suggested to be from 2000 to 3000 mg of EPA and DHA combined. This level should be taken consistently, with food, for approximately 8 to 12 weeks before the effects will start to kick in.
Now, take a look at your omega-3 supplement. Add together the total number of mgs of EPA and DHA per serving. How many capsules per day do you need to swallow to reach that 2000 to 3000 mg mark? For most brands, the actual dosage that you need is significantly higher than the normal recommendation of 1 or 2 capsules listed on the bottle.
One of biggest misconceptions with taking fish oil is the dose necessary to produce results. In this video, Dr. Bo Martinsen explains the omega-3 dose deception, comparing how many fish oil and krill oil capsules you would need to swallow to equal the amount of EPA/DHA found in a salmon fillet.
Why is it necessary to look at the levels of EPA and DHA, as opposed to the total amount of fish oil or the total amount of omega-3? Because in the 1970s, when two Danish researchers went to Greenland to find out why the Inuit people had such low levels of cardiovascular disease (in spite of the fact that over 40% of their total caloric intake was made up of fat), they discovered that the two most abundant molecules behind this fat paradox were: EPA and DHA molecules.
Therefore, the majority of the medical research has focused on EPA and DHA, even though they are not the sole members of the omega-3 family. Later research has found that daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids is not only important for good cardiovascular health, but also for brain, eye, joint, and mental health.
While we still have much to learn about omega-3, the research demonstrates that the benefits of EPA and DHA are dependent on the dose administered. The efficacy level from many of these studies is set between two and four grams (2000 – 4000 mg) per day. Again, remember that we are talking about the mgs of EPA and DHA, not just fish oil. In fact, the anti-inflammatory benefits of the omega-3s doesn’t seem to kick in unless you consume at least 2000 mg each day. For certain conditions, like arthritis, and for people with high triglyceride levels, studies routinely use between 3000 to 3500 mg of EPA/DHA daily to see meaningful results.
If you are not currently taking an omega-3 supplement, or just don’t feel like walking to the kitchen to get your capsules, never fear! We’ve done the math for you by looking at some common omega-3 products. Of course, products vary depending on the brand and the source of the oil. But, these numbers will give you the approximations for each category:
EPA/DHA Dose Per Unit
Servings Needed to Achieve
One regular fish oil capsule
~ 300mg of EPA/DHA
7 to 10 capsules per day
One high concentrate fish oil capsule
~ 600mg of EPA/DHA
3 to 5 capsules per day
One krill oil capsule
~ 75mg of EPA/DHA
27 to 40 capsules per day
One teaspoon of liquid cod liver oil
~ 1000 mg of EPA/DHA
2-3 teaspoons per day
Serving of wild salmon
~ 2000 to 3000 EPA/DHA*
6 oz fillet
*Level of EPA/DHA depends on the fish species, the time of year, how the fish is prepared, whether it was farm raised or wild caught, etc.
If you look closely at this table, a few facts should jump out. First and foremost, one teaspoon of liquid cod liver oil contains over three times as much EPA/DHA as one fish oil capsule. And, more shockingly, to get as much omega-3 as you would from eating a salmon fillet for dinner, you’d have to consume closer to 10 fish oil capsules daily. In other words, taking one capsule doesn’t give you much more than a bite or two of salmon. No wonder many people experience few benefits from popping fish oil capsules.
Most people around the world, and in the USA especially, get far too little omega-3. But if you do go on an omega-3 binge, the European Food Safety Authority has concluded that consuming up to 5000 mg of omega-3 daily is safe. Taking more than 5000 mg doesn’t appear to provide added benefits, so for most people, it doesn’t make sense to use more than that.
Now that you know the amount of fish oil you need, let’s turn our attention to the freshness of the oil that you’re taking. This is important because the freshness of your oil will impact its potency and safety.
Unfortunately, rancid omega-3 oil is all too prevalent today, with the majority exceeding industry freshness standards at the time of purchase. Rancidity is common amongst fish oil capsules, and can impact concentrated supplements in particular. When manufacturers artificially pump up the EPA or DHA levels to make concentrated capsules, they also risk creating trans fats and other unhealthy by-products in addition. A Norwegian research study found that these types of capsules have statistically higher levels of oxidation, an indicator of poor oil quality.
Oxidized, rancid oil can have damaging effects on your body; the complete opposite of what you are trying to accomplish by taking an omega-3 supplement in the first place. To learn more about the importance of low oxidation levels and freshness, read Why Is Getting a Fresh Fish Oil So Important?
Start by doing a taste and smell test. All oil, regardless of initial quality, will oxidize with time and exposure to oxygen. But, if the oil is not heavily flavored, you will often be able to get a good sense of the quality by using your senses – just like you would fish or milk. Take one of your fish oil capsules and carefully split it open. Smell and taste the oil. Fresh fish oil should have minimal to no smell. Long story short, if your fish dinner smelled and tasted that way, would you eat it? If the answer is no, toss the capsules.
Secondly, check to see if your oil lists a “Peroxide Value” or PV, which is an indicator of freshness in the omega-3 world. While scientists debate the acceptable PV levels, the lower the number is, the fresher the product is. A fresh food product should have a PV below 1 meq/kg. Some researchers suggest that fish oils should always have a PV below 2 meq/kg. If your fish oil has a PV over 5 meg/kg (the omega-3 industry’s standard), it has to go.
Fish and natural fish oil contain a wide range of beneficial fatty acids. Besides featuring a cocktail of omega-3, 6, 7, 9, and 11 in the proper ratios, fish oil also contains at least nine different types of named omega-3s – from the aforementioned EPA and DHA to the lesser known DPA, SDA, and the likes.
All of these fatty acids and their derivatives flourish in natural fish oil and cod liver oil, providing a wide range of nutrients for the body to absorb and enjoy. In its natural state, fish oil should provide the same mix and fatty acid content as fish. But just as drinking filtered orange juice is not as healthy as eating a fresh orange, the more you process the oil, the less nutrients it eventually contains.
So how do you know if your current fish oil is full spectrum or not? Unfortunately, it is hard to determine unless your fish oil manufacturer is honest and upfront about their manufacturing processes. But there may be clues. Read their websites to determine the source of their oil and check the supplement facts. If you see any mention of ethyl esters, concentrates, pharmaceutical grade, or prescription omega-3, then the answer is ‘no.’ For more information about fish oil processing methods and getting a full-spectrum oil, read Full-Spectrum Fish Oil: Why It Matters to Omega-3 Consumers.
For customers taking omega-3 supplements for a condition, such as dry eye, arthritis, depression, etc., strive for a daily dose of 3000 mg of EPA/DHA. However, the average adult can aim for a maintenance dose of 2000 mg EPA/DHA daily. Remember that quality and consistency are key to feeling all the benefits that fish oil has to offer. If you have questions, please contact us or leave a comment below.