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Coupon Abbreviations
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  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
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  • WYB = When You Buy
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  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

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What you should know about fish oil supplements on your organic living journey.

Last year, we spent about $1.2 billion on fish oil products in the United States alone. What’s all the fuss about? Fish Oil supplements have been credited with a medley of healthy benefits including:

f2

lowering triglyceride levels
preventing inflammation
preventing cancer
improving mood
reducing arthritis
protective against heart disease
lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease
reduced risk of cardiac events in people with cardiovascular disease
brain and nervous system health

Fish oil has proven so effective that pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline markets its own prescription fish oil, Lovaza, which can cost hundreds of dollars per month.

If you go shopping for fish oil supplements, you will find an abundance of options and price ranges. You can spend under $10 or over $70. Is one type of fish oil better than the other? Why are some so much more expensive?

What is fish oil?

Just as you would expect, fish oil comes from fish. It is extracted from a variety of fatty fish including salmon, cod, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. It is prized for its high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Molecularly-speaking, there are two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These two acids are the magic inside your fish oil supplement.

How it’s made

Fish oil is made by chopping up raw fish, steam-cooking to release the oils and liquids, and pressing them to separate the liquids from the dry matter. Solids are removed (and repurposed as fish meal) and the liquid is centrifuged to extract the oil. Once the oil is extracted, it is stored in tanks and may go through additional purification or is used as-is.

Molecularly Distilled?

Some manufacturers will take it one step further and molecularly distill the oil to remove impurities. This distillation changes the fatty acids. Molecularly distilled fish oil fatty acids have been converted from natural triglyceride oil into ethyl ester oil. Ethyl ester oil is a concentrated form of omega-3’s which sounds good, because it increases the amounts of EPA’s and DHA’s in your product. Unfortunately, these ethyl ester oils are LESS absorbable by your body, breakdown during storage, and are more unstable than the natural triglyceride oil often oxidizing in your body! Choose a natural triglyceride fish oil from a good source for the best absorption and best health benefit, skip the molecularly distilled oils.

Adventures in Mislabeling

When you buy a bottle of fish oil capsules, you’ll see a couple numbers on the bottle advertising the milligrams of fish oil, milligrams of omega-3 acids, and sometimes the amount of DHA & EPA. What you don’t know, however, is what is actually in the bottle you’re buying. Nutritional supplements are largely unregulated by the FDA and do not have to provide any proof that they’re selling exactly what they’re advertising. How do you know if you’re buying a good product? Some manufacturers opt for a Certificate of Analysis (COA), an analysis by an independent lab to measure ingredients and confirm the product contains what it advertises. Research your fish oil by searching the brand name and “certificate of analysis” to see if your product has been independently certified. Spoiler Alert: very few brands offer a COA!

Labdoor, an independent testing company, tested 30 popular brands of fish oil supplements, comparing the actual vs. advertised amounts of omega-3’s, amount of EPA and DHA, amount of mercury, and amount of PCB toxins. On average, the supplements contained 14% less DHA than advertised. About 1/3 of all tested products showed some level of mislabeling. (Check out the results for yourself at Labdoor’s site: www.labdoor.com/rankings/fish-oil.)

fish pic 1

Top Five Fish Oils, based on quality (labdoor.com)

  1. Nutrigold Triple Strength Omega-3

  2. MRM Smart Blend

  3. Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega D3

  4. GNC Triple Strength Fish Oil

  5. Dr. Tobias Optimum Omega 3 Fish Oil

Top Five Fish Oils, based on value (labdoor.com)

  1. Nature Made Fish Oil

  2. Axis Labs Citrus Omega Fish Oil

  3. NOW Foods Ultra Omega 3 Fish Oil

  4. Kirkland Signature Omega-3 Fish Oil Concentrate

  5. GNC Triple Cod Liver Oil

The “quality” of fish oil supplements was based on the amount of omega-3’s, the amount of EPA/DHA, the levels of mercury or PCBs, label accuracy, product purity, nutritional value, ingredient safety, and projected efficacy.

Label Reading

When you’re shopping for fish oil, take some time to read the label and try to decipher what you’re buying. I compared two different fish oils, one bargain and one high-end. Here’s what I found:

Nature Made Fish Oil

Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega

soft gel size

1000 mg

1000 mg

Omega-3’s

300 mg

640 mg

EPA/DHA

250 mg combined

EPA = 325 mg; DHA = 225 mg; 550 mg combined

Other Omega-3

50 mg

90 mg

Ingredients

Gelatin, glycerin, water, tocopherol. Contains fish (anchovy, sardine) and soy.

Purified deep sea fish oil (from anchovies and sardines), soft gel capsule (gelatin, water, glycerin, natural lemon flavor), natural lemon flavor, d-alpha tocopherol, rosemary extract (a natural preservative).

Labdoor Results

C+ with a very low projected efficacy

A- with a high projected efficacy

Cost

from $0.07 each

from $0.26 each

So, the choice is yours. Save money on a supplement that may not provide good results, or spend more on a product that will be more effective? Is there a happy place in the middle of the road? NOW Foods Ultra Omega-3 (from $0.11 per capsule) is rated a  B+ by Labdoor but has low ratings for product purity and ingredient safety. Unless you’re willing to pay a lot more, you will have to make some sacrifices on quality. What’s most important to you? Efficacy? Toxins? EPA/DHA amounts?

fish pic 3

Freshness and Oxidation

Obviously, not all fish oils are the same. Maybe you’ve tried fish oil before but didn’t notice any results? You may have been using a rancid oil. Aside from the omega-3’s and DHA/EPA amounts, we also need to consider the fish oil’s freshness. A fresh fish oil guarantees the oils have not oxidized or gone rancid. Oxidized oils are just bad for your body, causing inflammation and a build-up of free radicals, negating any benefits from the omega-3’s. A fresh fish oil will have very little or zero oxidation.

Unfortunately, freshness isn’t easily determined and has nothing to do with shelf life. To confirm the freshness of a product, you have to do some digging. Find the supplement’s COA (certificate of analysis) and search for the “peroxide value”. This measures the amount of oxidation. The lower the value, the better the product. For example, Nordic Naturals states an absolute 0.0 mEQ/kg, with an average of 0.75 mEQ/kg peroxide value.

What about krill oil?

The main difference is the bioavailability of the EPA and DHA in krill oil. Though both fish oil and krill oil contain DHA and EPA, the structure of the fatty acids in krill oil is completely different! It’s already been broken down into phospholipids, which means your body absorbs them right away, 100%. Fish oil EPAs and DHAs need to be converted before your body can use them, often losing a lot of the fatty acid along the way. Studies showed that krill oil is most effective at 2-3 grams per day. If you’re looking to impact your blood test results, krill oil may get you there more quickly.

Perspective

Here are my personal thoughts (you chime in below): add fish oil supplements if you don’t get enough omega-3’s through your regular diet. If you eat fish a couple times a week, enjoy snacking on smoked salmon, or relish a tin of sardines, you probably don’t need a supplement at all. Save your money and enjoy the benefits of a well-balanced, delicious diet!

There is no doubt in my mind that fish oil is a fantastic supplement to add to your diet, if you need it. Last week, I shared about my husband whose triglyceride count dropped 66% in just a few months after adding fish oil to his diet. I’m a believer. There seems to be the most scientific evidence to support the use of fish oil in a high triglyceride situation. For other conditions, there is a lot of evidence, though not as strong.

This is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain

    • Anne

      If you are serious about taking fish oils, Fermented Cod Liver Oil is the way to go: http://www.radiantlifecatalog.com/product/fermented-cod-liver-oil/67

    • Deecie

      I take Hemp Seed Oil for my Omegas…love the Organic Nutiva brand and not expensive.

    • Wendy

      I’ve always heard Carlson fish oil is the “best” and, without doing any independent research, it’s what we’ve been taking. It’s either lemon or orange flavored oil that you take by the teaspoon and it actually gives you less of a fish taste (or after-burps) than the gelcaps. Not cheap, but why by the super-cheap ones if they aren’t even giving you the benefits of the supplement, right?

      • Guest

        I’ve always heard that Carslon was the top notch choice as well

      • Jake D

        We have been taking Omega 3 supplement ever since and with the fish aftertaste and fishy burps we’ve change from one brand to the other. Right now we’ve settled with the Omega 3 supplement from Vision Group, the natural lemon flavor worked for us. With regards to the content of the essential fatty acid Omega 3 on each supplement, they are all the same provided they came from a good source. Our doctor recommend 3g daily intake of Omega 3 supplement, just check the labels on the back of the supplement to make sure that they contain the necessary amount of DHA and EPA. What I was wondering is the Omega 3 derived from plant source, are they good alternative?

    • Elena Vo

      What are your thoughts on fermented cod liver oil?