Most people know that eating fish is good for them but, for a variety of reasons, many people eat little or no fish. They may be vegetarian, it might be considered an extravagance, they just may not like seafood or perhaps they are concerned about quality.
Fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies and trout contain high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids essential to our health, especially Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Fish also contains useful amounts of protein and essential vitamins and minerals but it is the EPA and DHA which are most often researched for their health benefits.
If you are healthy and eating oily fish a couple of times a week as part of an overall healthy and balanced diet you may not benefit from a fish oil supplement.
What are the health benefits of fish oil?
EPA has been shown to be beneficial for maintenance of cardiovascular health and healthy triglyceride levels (triglycerides are measured as part of your cholesterol screening), reducing inflammation, improving joint flexibility, and aiding emotional wellbeing.
DHA is shown to be beneficial for cognition, learning, memory, healthy aging of the mind, eye sight, positive effects on the nervous system, improving mood and behaviour. It is important in pregnancy, childhood development and for overall emotional wellbeing.
Fish oil supplements vary in their total amount of EPA and DHA as well as the ratio of EPA to DHA. So, if you are taking a fish oil supplement, make sure you are taking one best suited to your particular needs (e.g. do you need more EPA or DHA?).
How to choose a good fish oil supplement
There are hundreds of supplements available in Australia and they vary in price enormously so how do you choose?
As well as considering the ratio of EPA and DHA, there are a number of other factors you should take into account when choosing the supplement right for you. These include:
Freshness – this is affected by time from catch to processing as well as exposure to air during processing and bottling. Like other oils, fish oil can go rancid (through oxidation or exposure to air). If in doubt about yours, break a capsule and smell it. There should be no unpleasant odour.
You should be able to take a fish oil (liquid or capsule) without fishy aftertaste.
Purity – fish can accumulate a whole range of things we don’t necessarily want to ingest such as heavy metals, dioxins, microplastics and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). When the oil is extracted, it is purified. There are Australian standards required for most (but not all) contaminants. All Australian manufacturers should comply with these standards but ideally, look for a brand that goes even further to ensure an even more pure product. For example, the fish oil we dispense here in the clinic is independently third party-tested for 463 environmental contaminants (including plastics* and radio-active isotopes which are not required to be tested under current Australian guidelines). Their heavy metal purity is 500 times more pure than the Australian standards require and they display their testing results on their labels for everyone to see.
Added anti-oxidants – usually in the form of mixed tocopherols (preferably organic) to protect against oxidation.
Natural triglyceride structure – it’s a bit technical but basically some fish oil products are produced with a synthetic triglyceride as part of their chemical structure, whereas others maintain the natural triglyceride which is more stable and better absorbed.
Encapsulation – some capsules are formulated with plastic or acrylic compounds while others avoid the use of these chemicals.
Sustainability of supply – if you are concerned about environmental issues, make sure you choose a brand which promises the use of sustainable supply.
Dosage – the percentage of EPA and/or DHA in your fish oil product can vary from brand to brand. Some 1000mg capsules contain as little as 300mg EPA/DHA meaning you may need to take more of them in order to ensure you are getting the required therapeutic dose of active ingredients.
So, what does this all mean?
Fish oil supplements may provide significant health benefits (if your diet is lacking) but you need to ensure you are taking the right ratio of EPA and DHA and in the right amounts for your particular needs or you won’t feel those benefits and you may be wasting your hard-earned money.
Like all supplements, you want one that is good quality. There are dozens of different supplements on the market so ask questions and choose wisely. You want to be confident that your supplement is not just causing more problems.
Avoid the big, bulk containers as the capsules are more likely to go “off” or rancid before you finish them. And it’s a good idea to keep your fish oil capsules in the refrigerator once opened to maintain freshness.
Here in the clinic we only use the finest “practitioner strength” treatments. You can be assured of quality and therapeutic effect when your fish oil is prescribed on the basis of your specific needs as part of a naturopathic consultation.
*You may have seen the news of plastics being discovered in the deepest parts of our oceans. According to one study, 3 in 4 fish living at 200-1000 metres in the North Sea had microplastics in their stomachs. If would like more information on plastics in seafood watch this video.