Sunday, May 25, 2008

Weekend Lesson #2 - Selecting a Fish Oil Supplement

One of the most popular supplements is fish oil. This is with good reason. Fish oil can be helpful for such a wide-variety of conditions and can help promote general wellness and possibly longevity.

Some of the longest living societies live in regions of the world where fatty-fish is eaten regularly. This appears not to be a coincidence.

Another interesting aspect to the fish oil story is that conventional physicians (who typically do not endorse alternative medicine) will often recommend fish under certain circumstances - generally for cardiovascular-related conditions. In fact, there's even a prescription-only fish oil that doctors sometimes prescribe.

What should you look for when looking for a fish oil supplement?

There are three primary points to consider when shopping around.

1. The quality of product.

2. The dosage, of omega-3 fatty acids (the "active" ingredients in fish oil), that you're looking to take.

3. The price.

How can you determine the quality of the different products?

This will require a little observation and homework on your part. You may need to visit the manufacturers' websites to see how they ensure a high-quality product.

Here are a few examples of what you might find:

Nordic Naturals Quality Assurance

Coromega FAQ's

If you're interested in a specific product and you can't find information on the manufacturer's website ... try e-mailing the manufacturer or calling their toll-free number.

What dosage do you need/want to take?

The dosage you'll want to take will vary based on the reason why you're taking the fish oil. If you're trying to lower your triglycerides (to support heart-health), you'll take a different dosage than if you were taking the fish oil to help improve your mood and yet a different dosage if you're trying to combat psoriasis.

You also need to consider what form of fish will help you to be achieve your desired dosage. For instance, if you want to take 1,000 mg (1 gram) of fish oil per day, you'd likely want to buy a softgel (a liquid-filled capsule) form. But, if you're shooting for 10,000 mg (10 grams) a day, you may want to try a liquid form of fish oil. *

* There are some really pure and pleasantly flavored (liquid) fish oils out there. I use one myself. So, don't let the thought of liquid fish oil turn you off. It just might surprise you.

Here's a tip, one way to take your liquid fish oil is to add it to a smoothie/shake or to mix it in with some yogurt.

What's your budget?

There are some excellent but expensive fish oils out there. Nordic Naturals is one example. But, there are also some really pure (and tasty) fish oils that are much cheaper (but still high-quality).

So, if you find a product (that is from a reputable manufacturer) that is a great deal ... don't necessarily dismiss it.

You see, fish oil is one of those supplements that many people use on an on-going basis. Because of this, some manufacturers try to offer it at a lower-price because they want to ensure repeat-business.

Is there anything else we should know about fish oil?

Yes. First of all, always take your fish oil with food. Secondly, fish oil may not be appropriate if you're taking certain medications.

Also, when you're establishing your desired dosage, make sure you know if the dosage is based on the omega-3 content or the general fish oil content.

Let me explain. If your doctor says to take 2 grams of omega's a day ... that doesn't mean that you should take 2 grams of fish oil a day. Here's why:

1 gram of fish oil may only provide 400 mg of omega-3's. So, to get 2 grams (of omega-3's), you'd need to take 5 sofgels (400 mg x 5 = 2,000 mg/2 grams).

If this isn't clear, please let me know and I'll be happy to clarify.

If you have any trouble with "repeating the fishy-flavor" (sometimes called "fishy-burbs") ...

1. Make sure you're taking your fish oil with food.

2. If you're taking a softgel, try freezing it, and see if that helps. Freezing the fish oil will (slightly) delay the release of the fish oil after your consume it.

3. If all else fails, consider buying an enterically-coated fish oil supplement. Enteric-coating is a process where a naturally-coating is applied to the exterior of the softgel. This will allow for the fish oil to release much further down in your digestive system. This makes it highly unlikely that any "fishy-burps" will result from this type of supplement.

If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment or to e-mail me.

The Vitamin Tutor


Nick said...

What dosage would you recommend for mood disorders? Also, are there fish oils out there that include adequate Vitamin D3 for a person living in a northerly latitude (Ireland)?

The Vitamin Tutor said...

Hello, Nick.

Here's some information you may find interesting:

A recent study found that 1 gram of EPA (one of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil) seemed to improve depressive symptoms.

Here's a link to a review of the study:

note: You may need to copy-and-paste that address into your browser.

There are a few products (here in the USA) that attempt to provide just this amount. One is called "Omega 3 Mood" by Country Life. Another is called "Mood Solution" by TwinLab. There are other products available as well, like Nordic Naturals "EPA Xtra".

If these products aren't available locally, you may be able to find suitable alternatives closer to home. Or, some USA Internet stores may be able to ship to Ireland as well.

The important this to look for is a total daily intake of 1,000 mg (1 gram) of EPA. This generally requires more than one softgel.

All of the products I mentioned require that you take two or more softgels in order to get the full 1 gram of EPA.

Cod liver oil is a good source of vitamin D (and vitamin A). You could try supplementing with cod liver oil - as a means of attaining the omega-3s and vitamin D.

In terms of vitamin D dosage and optimal blood levels of D, please check out this site (it's wonderful):

Please note that you may need to be patient with regard to results. Some people notice results very quickly and others require a few months or so.

Thanks for your question.

Be well!

The Vitamin Tutor

MiaBwood said...

Hello Vitamin Tutor!
Your site & information is super interesting, & helpful as well... I'd need a 'daily dose' to best digest it all! For today... I most appreciated your take on beta-carotene [naturally] containing foods. I also wondered your thoughts, as I focused on your lycopenes/tomatoes information...whether you can speak on something I've heard repeatedly: that in some cases frozen & even canned vegetable [ie. tomato!] products can contain possibly more pure nutrients than "fresh". On that vein, I've also been interested in how essential it is to pay the considerable amount extra for 'organic' products @ the grocery store...
Thanks for your knowledge & input!

The Vitamin Tutor said...

Hello, Maria!

Frozen vegetables and fruits can be a good alternative to fresh fruits and veggies. The reason for this is that you're getting a fully-ripened product that is frozen at the peak of it's potential.

Most of the produce we find in markets are picked in an unripened form and allowed to mature in a warehouse or the market itself ... but not on the tree/vine. This can have a considerable impact on the nutritional content of the produce.

I'm not a big fan of canned foods - in most instances. The lining of canned foods often contains questionable chemicals that may be harmful. Also, all canned foods are essentially cooked to help preserve the food and to extend the shelf-life (and to ensure it's safety). All of this affects the nutritional content of the canned food.

In my opinion, the best way to choose fruits and vegetables would be in this order:

1. fresh produce, from a farmer's market

2. fresh produce from a market or frozen products

3. canned food

In terms of the organic issue. The extra cost really depends on the specific fruit or veggie in question.

Please check out this site to learn more about that:

Thanks for your great questions!

Be well!

The Vitamin Tutor

Anonymous said...

I have been taking 2 table spoons of Carlsons lemon flavored Cod Liver oil since showing a low HDL a couple of months ago.Is once in the morning OK or with every meal?

The Vitamin Tutor said...

Hello, Scott.

It might be better to spread out the dosage. I don't mean that you need to increase the amount, just (as an example) take half with breakfast and half with dinner.

Here's a recent column, by noted cardiologist William Davis, that explains why this may be best:

I hope this is helpful.

Be well!