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 nutrients, including EPA and DHA, two polyunsaturated fatty acids. EPA and DHA are the powerful workhorses of the omega-3 family, and have been researched extensively for their role in lowering triglyceride levels and blood pressure, improving mood and mental health, and helping reduce pain and inflammation.
To make a noticeable difference in your health, the daily fish oil dosage for adults should 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? Remember that fish oils only contain a certain percentage of omega-3s, depending on the source of the oil, how it is processed and how fresh it is. Typically, a natural fish oil will contain at most 30% EPA and DHA combined. So if your capsule contains 1000 mg of fish oil, that means you are only getting 300 mg of EPA/DHA.
The reason we care so much about the amount EPA and DHA is that almost all medical research to date has focused on those fatty acids, even though they are not the sole members of the omega-3 family. Whenever a new study comes out showing benefits for fighting cancer, dry eyes and improving mental health, it is almost always the EPA and DHA that are being discussed.
However, research also shows that the benefits of EPA and DHA are dependent on the dose administered. In fact, numerous studies indicate that the anti-inflammatory benefits of the omega-3s don’t kick in unless you consume at least 2000 mg each day. For certain conditions, like arthritis and high triglyceride levels, studies routinely use between 3000 to 4000 mg of EPA/DHA daily to see meaningful results. And for other diseases, like cancer, the dosages can go even higher.
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:
Dose Per Unit
Servings to Achieve
Regular fish oil capsule
~ 300mg EPA/DHA
7 – 10 capsules
High concentrate fish oil capsule
~ 600mg EPA/DHA
3 – 5 capsules
Krill oil capsule
~ 75mg EPA/DHA
27 – 40 capsules
Teaspoon of cod liver oil
~ 1000 mg EPA/DHA
Serving of wild salmon
~ 2000 – 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 are getting distressed looking at this table and imagining swallowing all those fish oil pills, remember there are alternatives to taking capsules. For instance, a fresh cod liver oil, like Omega Cure®, delivers 3000 mg of EPA/DHA in three teaspoons and has no fishy taste or smell.
Similarly, increasing your intake of fish is a great way to get enough omega-3s. If you do go that route though, you have to pay attention to the fish species and how the fish is prepared to ensure you don’t cook the majority of omega-3s out of your meal.
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-3s daily is safe.
Now that you know the amount of fish oil you need, let’s turn our attention to the freshness level of the oil that you’re taking. This is important because freshness impacts potency and safety.
Unfortunately, rancid omega-3 oil is all too prevalent today. In fact, independent studies from around the world have concluded that the majority of omega-3 products exceed industry freshness standards at the time of purchase.
Rancidity is concerning from several perspectives. For one, as your omega-3 supplement goes rancid (or oxidizes), the amount of EPA and DHA in the oil also decreases. In other words, if your fish oil supplement is rancid, you are likely getting less omega-3 than the labels suggests.
More concerning though it that rancid oil can have damaging effects on your body. For instance, at least two studies to date have found that rancid fish oil has a negative impact on cholesterol levels, whereas fresh fish oil delivers the expected health benefits. Other studies have found that rancid fish oil can increase risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. To learn more on this important topic, read Rancid Fish Oil May Hurt More than Help, Research Shows.
In the world of fish oil, peroxide values measure an oil’s freshness level. While the omega-3 industry has stated that an omega-3 oil should never exceed a peroxide value of 5 mEq/kg, several international studies have determined that most brand far exceed that value at the time of purchase.
To figure out if your fish oil is fresh, 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 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. Scientists are still debating what an acceptable PV level is. But, as a general rule, the lower the PV number, the fresher the product. For instance, Omega Cure has a PV level of 0.1 – 0.3 mEq/kg at the time of bottling, making it about 80 times fresher than your typical omega-3 supplement.
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 ALA, 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 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 concentrates, pharmaceutical grade, or prescription omega-3, then the answer is probably ‘no.’
For more information about getting a full-spectrum oil, read Full-Spectrum Fish Oil: Why It Matters to Omega-3 Consumers.
Increasing one’s intake of omega-3s is a wonderful way to improve health, be it for dry eyes, arthritis, or lowering triglyceride levels. But if you are hoping to experience results, it’s important to pay attention to the dose and quality you are getting with your supplement.
If you haven’t already, try Omega Cure. With the lowest oxidation levels on the market, it is the freshest omega-3 oil available. And with no fishy taste or smell, it is easy to enjoy in juice or yogurt or drink straight. You can learn more about how Omega Cure is made here.