Fish oils are very popular supplements in the developed world. With increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental health in the general population, more people are looking at fish oils as a natural solution to support their health. But the fish oil market can be rather overwhelming – with hundreds of different types, strengths and brands of fish oils, it can be difficult to navigate and a challenge to know what you’re buying and if it’s the most suitable and the best quality. All fish oils are NOT created equal!
Essential fatty acids, Omega 3, 6, 9, EPA, DHA….! Where do I start?
All fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids (also called essential fatty acids) – called ‘essential’ because our bodies cannot produce them from other fats. We must therefore consume them from our diet and/or supplementation to meet our daily requirements.
There are two main omega-3 fatty acids that are important for optimum health, each with a specific role:
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
The mix of EPA and DHA in a fish oil supplement is varies from one manufacturer to another, and is done to achieve different therapeutic actions in the body. So one of the choices for a fish oil is what therapeutic objective are you trying to achieve.
EPA is anti-inflammatory, used for issues such as:
- joint pain and arthritis
- cardiovascular disease and hypertension
- menstrual pain (dysmenorrhoea)
EPAs also have a role in:
- increasing ‘good cholesterol’ (HDL)
- decreasing the incidence of and to reduce the complications of diabetes
- assisting in weight loss
- maintaining cognitive function and decreasing the potential risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
DHA’s main role is brain health, mood and cognitive function. DHA is a major component in the membranes surrounding our neurons and they play an important role in controlling the chemicals that influence mood, memory, learning, sleep and general behaviour. It has also been shown to have a role in neuron growth and re-growth.
With it’s important role in brain health, higher ratios of DHAs are often used in:
- pregnancy and breastfeeding
- there is a higher requirement for omega-3 fatty acids as a baby grows for healthy brain, nervous system and eye development – so mum needs a good level in her system to pass across to the developing baby
- once born, breast milk becomes the primary source of the baby’s omega-3 fatty acids
- children and adolescents
- as the brain continues to develop rapidly from infancy through to adulthood, supplementation during this time has been shown to enhance learning, as well as assisting with mood and behavioural disturbances such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- people with anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances
DHA also plays an important role in vascular health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is why most fish oil supplements with a high concentration of EPA will also contain a significant amount of DHA as well.
A quick over view of omega 6 and 9 (not part of your fish oil)
Omega 6 is also an essential fatty acid, found in seeds and nuts, and their oils. A healthy diet should contain a balance of omega-3 and omega-6. However, many western diets tend to contain a higher proportion of inflammatory omega-6, mainly from the vegetable oils commonly used in processed foods, and not enough anti-inflammatory omega 3.
Too much omega 6 interferes with the absorption of omega 3 and an imbalance is thought to be a contributing factor in the rise of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Omega 9 is not considered essential as we can make it our bodies. It can be found in olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts, sesame oil.
What do the labels on fish oils mean?
Most fish oils will state they are high potency containing 1,000mg or 1,500mg of fish oil per capsule. However, it is not the overall mgs that we need to look at, it is the mgs of EPA and DHA within each capsule. For example:
- 1,000mg capsule will usually contain 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA
More concentrated forms are available and are usually around 400mg EPA and 200mg DHA per 1,000mg capsule.
Liquid fish oils usually contain higher concentrations of EPA and DHA per dose, however, taste and texture can be an issue for many people.
Often the most preferred option of capsule as it reduces the incidence of burping or ‘repeating’ after the fish oil is consumed.
Enteric coating is actually very important in fish oil supplements as it ensures the fish oil is broken down in the best part of the digestive tract for fat digestion – the small intestine. The coating allows for protected passage through the stomach’s acidic environment, breaking down once it arrives in the more alkaline environment of the small intestines.
Consideration into how your fish oil is manufactured is an important consideration – where it comes from in the world, what type of fish (sustainability) and what measures have been taken to reduce toxins.
There are regulations in Australia set by the Therapeutic Goods Administration that details the maximum levels of contaminants such as heavy metals e.g. mercury, lead, oxidation markers and pesticides.
If you ever want more details on the fish oil you are considering, most reputable companies will disclose what quality standard their fish oils comply with, and can provide details of the levels of heavy metals, oxidation markers, pesticides and dioxin residues in their fish oils.
For disease prevention, the recommended daily intake is approximately 500mg DHA and EPA per day for children and adults.
The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) suggests a daily intake of 610mg per day for men and 430mg per day for women.
At the lower end, the NHMRC sets the minimum you need for good health at 90mg for women and 160mg for men per day from a marine source of DHA and EPA.
For arthritis pain relief, 3,000mg DHA and EPA per day is recommended, for those with coronary heart disease a daily dose of 1,000mg DHA and EPA.
A few natural sources of omega 3’s:
- good quality fish: salmon, trout, herring, mackerel
- flaxseeds (and oil)
- chia seeds
- chinese broccoli
- tarragon and mint
Need some advice on the best fish oil supplement? Call the expert team at the Natural Chemist for input 1300 882 303