Choosing the right fish oils, what you need to know

Fish Oils are one of the best selling supplements throughout the world. Prescribed for everything from Hypertriglyceridemia (a kind of cholesterol) to Joint pain, fish oil is the "Tai Kor" of the supplement world. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that:

Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden death.  Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and lower blood pressure (slightly)."

But amongst the sea of fish oils, how do you find the right catch? Most of my customers come in looking for "1000mg" fish oils. The thing that they don't understand is, almost 90% of commercial fish oil capsules will be 1000mg. The difference in these fish oils are NOT the total fish oil content the capsule contain, but the content of Omega 3 (EPA & DHA) in each capsule. According to the AHA, Patients with documented heart disease are advised to consume about 1 gram of EPA + DHA (types of omega-3 fatty acids), while those with high triglycerides (blood fats), 2 to 4 grams of EPA + DHA per day, in the form of capsules.

 So how much EPA+DHA do most fish oils in the market contain? Well, i would classify the fish oil content into 3 main groups:

The low dose bunch

Most of these Incredibly cheap fish oils will contain 180mg of EPA, and 120mg of DHA (300mg in total). A lot of reputable brands such as Blackmores will have fish oils in this category (to fight for the "budget" segment presumably), but also other variants of fish oils in higher categories. These fish oils will typically be a "mixture" fish oils, apart from salmon oil. Any fish oil product containing less than 300mg of Omega-3 oils are probably not worth our time. To achieve the 1g EPA+DHA recommended for anybody with heart disease, you would have to take a minimum of 3 capsules (900mg of Omega-3s)


The medium dose bunch

These intermediate fish oils will often carry the word "high strength" or "forte" or something in those tones. As with humans, those who shout the loudest are not usually the fullest. The intermediate or medium bunch usually contains about 360mg EPA and 240mg of DHA, doubling that of the low dose bunch. This bunch is of course better than the low doses, but they are still far away from the "forte" strength they tend to advertise.


The high dose bunch

The high dose group crams in a variety of EPA:DHA doses. Those made to increase brain/cognitive function will have very high doses of DHA (500mg) and lower EPA (100mg), as in Blackmore's Omega Memo. Those made primarily for cardiovascular/hypertriglyceridemia purposes will have around 600mg of EPA, and 300mg of DHA, as in Puremed's Bio-marine complex. Apart from the high EPA content, this product also contains squalene, something that wikipedia claims can reduce risk of cancer.


Since the lower dose bunch are typically much cheaper than the high dose bunch, one can just take more of the lower dose fish oils and it will be just the same as you taking one capsule of the expensive ones....RIGHT?

Well, no. Not really.

The picture below explains the differences between taking one capsule of high dose fish oil vs taking 3 of the low dose fish oils.

Basically, we get a lot less of the "unneeded" oils if we opt for high dose fish oil. Also, the pricing for the same amount of Omega 3 is usually lower for the high doses, contradicting the popular belief that low dose fish oil is more value for money.

Apart from the dose of Omega-3s are there any other points we need to look out for when choosing our fish oils?

Yes there are. When you take fish oil, the biggest unwanted side effect for most people is the fishy burp you may experience when you burp. Therefore, a lot of companies have taken steps to compensate for this:

    • Blackmores have come up with "Odorless" fish oils
    • Eurobio incorporates the "SEDDS" technology, a patented technology that renders fish oil tasteless and odourless even when the capsules is chewed.
    • Abbott Surbex range fish oil uses "flavouring" to mask the smell of fish oil. Orange flavour in particular. So you'll get cute orangy smell instead :)
    • Megalive Omega 600/300 and Puremed Biomarine Fish Oil both opt for enteric coating, making the capsule insoluble in your stomach, and only dissolves in your gut. This makes even burping a 100 times after taking your fish oil no biggie.

Some other small things to take note is that some better fish oils do mention the type fish used for their fish oil, and of course, the country of manufacture must be taken into account. Serious side effects like prolonged bleeding time may be experienced for omega-3 doses exceeding 4g/day.

So there you have it. Remember these pointers when you purchase your fish oil, and you won't be duped by shady sales promoters.