Fishing for an Omega-3 Supplement? Follow These Guidelines

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Even if you eat fish, getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet isn't easy. Learn more about fish oil supplements and how to use them.

Have you taken your omega-3's today?

Omega-3s - commonly found in fish oils - are known as "essential fatty acids" because they are just that. These fats are important to good health and your body cannot make them on its own. Research has shown they may be especially helpful in lowering triglycerides and reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke in people who have had a heart attack. They may also be helpful in treating rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. However, more research is needed to fully understand this role.

The best source of omega-3 is cold-water fish, such as tuna, salmon and sardines. Dark leafy green vegetables, flaxseed oil and walnuts also contain omega-3s, but are not as effective as fish oils in reducing disease risk.

Why supplements?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fish at least twice a week. If you are not a fish lover, fish oil capsules can give you the extra omegas your body needs, if your doctor approves this. The AHA recommends a supplement containing 500 mg of EPA and DHA, the two types of omega-3 fats.

These guidelines do not apply to women who are pregnant. If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, talk to your doctor before you take any supplements. Also check with your doctor to see what type of fish is best for you to eat.

If you already have heart disease, the AHA recommends that you eat about 1 gram (1,000 mg) of EPA+DHA per day. This is equivalent to about 3 1/2 ounces of salmon or other fatty fish. If your triglycerides are very high, your doctor may recommend up to 4 g in supplements a day. Tell your doctor first if you are taking aspirin or a blood-thinning medication, though, because omega-3s can thin your blood.

What to look for when buying a supplement

  • Check for active ingredients. Look for a supplement with more EPA than DHA. Most will have a 3:2 ratio of EPA to DHA, but even those with up to a 7:1 ratio can be beneficial.
  • Source. Any quality fish oil will do, be it from salmon, sardines, tuna or anchovies.
    • Avoid supplements made from algae oil, which contain only DHA.
    • Don't rely on capsules made from flaxseed oil, which are less effective than fish oil.
    • Avoid cod liver oil. It is high in vitamin A and may cause toxicity of this fat-soluble vitamin.
  • Purity. The oil in the capsules should be relatively odorless and clear, not dark or cloudy. Look for brands that meet certification standards, such as the International Fish Oils Standard (IFOS) or the United States Pharmacopeia Convention (USP).
  • Dosage. Focus on only the EPA and DHA - the omega-3-rich fatty acids in the fish oil - not the total milligrams (mg) of fat. See the label example below.
    Serving size: 2 capsules

    Total fat1,000 mg
    EPA300 mg
    DHA200 mg

    That is a combined total of 500 mg of omega-3s (EPA plus DHA). Also note the serving size. In this example, two capsules give you 500 mg of active ingredient. This means you would need four capsules to get a total of 1,000 mg.
  • Added nutrients. Supplements with added nutrients, such as lutein (for eye health), are more costly and not necessary. Choose a supplement that has added vitamin E (listed as tocophorol on the ingredient list).
  • Form. Omega-3 supplements come in capsules, liquid or gel. All are equally effective. Go with the form you are most likely to take daily.

Other considerations
Start off with a smaller dosage and work your way up to the maximum recommended amount. If you buy Vilitra 20mg the supplement repeats on you, take it with meals. Odorless versions are available, but they will cost more.