I have been taking fish oil for the last few years but I have recently taken a break because I started looking into fish oils, the ingredients, & sustainability of them and was so horrified at what I discovered that I stopped taking them.
It all started when I wanted to really know what was actually in the capsule as this never seemed to be on the label. What was that gel cap made of and why was this not listed on the bottle?
I emailed the brand I was using and was horrified to find out that there were a whole list of other ingredients in my fish oil capsule that I didn’t know about because they weren’t listed on the bottle. This included soy bean oil (that was most likely genetically modified), colors, flavourings and artificial sweeteners like sorbitol. It turns out supplement manufacturers ( In Australia) are not legally required to list on all of the ingredients. They only have to state the active ingredients. I find this horrifying as a consumer as you don’t really know what you are getting.
I then cracked open my fish oil capsule to have a smell of the oil and it smelt totally rank! I found this extremely concerning as consuming rancid oils can cause a lot of damage to the cells in the body.
The fish oil industry in the past few years has quite honestly become a huge business. Every chemist, supermarket and health food store has a wall high of different types of fish oil and you can spend hours trying to figure out which one is the best and still be none the wiser. We get told to take fish oil supplements because its good for cognitive function and heart health but do you really understand what it does? Do you really need it? Do you know what to consider when buying a fish oil?
One of the main reasons fish oil can be good for us it that it contains 2 fatty acids that are extremely important for the body.
1. EPA – elcosapentanoic acid. This is a fatty acid that is associated with anti-inflammatory pathways in the body, reducing blood pressure and preventing clot formation, which is why it is promoted good for heart hearth.
2. DHA – docosahexanoic acid. This is a fatty acid that is associated with good brain health and can assist with lifting mood. It has been shown to in particularly help with depression.
The body can manufacture these fatty acids from other fatty acids that they receive in the diet such as Omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acids.
Essential – means that the body must get them from the outside as it cannot manufacture them. This is why you hear so much about these essential fatty acids because we MUST get them from our diet.
Fish oil supplements are extracted from oily fish that are high in DHA and EHA. This means that the body does not have to convert these fatty acids from other sources. They are already made for the body to use. This is why oily fish is heavily promoted as a health food; hence the birth and rapid growth of the fish oil industry, as we know it today.
Your average fish oil capsule is 1000mg but the levels in DHA and EHA will differ greatly and will be up to 500mg-combined amount. Ideally you want the combined eha/dha content to be at least around the 500mg or more to receive the therapeutic effects of fish oil. Often the cheaper brands of fish oil are significantly lower than this and to get the therapeutic amount would require taking up to 10-12 capsules a day. Even for the most dedicated healthie’s isn’t such an appetizing thought!
What also differs is the way the oils have been extracted, which can cause rancidity (free radicals which cause damage to our cells) as well as the other ingredients that are in the supplement that the manufacturers don’t have to tell you about!
Liquid fish oils are often much more concentrated and do not have as many nasty additives in them as they are not in the caps. The levels of DHA and EHA are much more concentrated with levels being up to 3000mg per 5ml.
- It apparently takes 5kg of fish to get 1kg of fish oil. That is an awful lot of waste.
Toxins and Heavy Metals
- In Australia all fish oil supplements must be tested for heavy metals. So if you are buying a product in Australia you are protected this way.
How to choose a fish oil supplement?
- If you are already using fish oil and it’s in a capsule… cut one open and have a good old sniff. Does it smell more than a little bit fishy? If yes the oil is rancid and it is actually doing far more harm than good.
- Is it pure? Is it free of mercury, lead and other toxins?
- Is it fresh? It should really have a light fish smell and be clearest in color.
- EPA & DHA content should be at least 500mg combined total per serve.
- The oil should be from sustainable sources of fish.
- It should not be extracted at high heat as this will make the oil rancid. The oil should be pure without any other oils such as soy or corn and free of colorings and flavorings etc. Email the supplier of your oil and ask about the ingredients as well as the process in which the oil is extracted
- If buying a capsule form you must find out the ingredients of the capsule. This will most likely not be listed on the label. This will require an email or phone call to the manufacture.
- Go for the labels that do list all of the ingredients on the packaging.
- Shop from a health food store that provides a service where you can also ask these questions. However they may not know all the facts and I urge you to do your own investigations.
If the fish oil your purchases was a cheap fish oil the chances of it being rancid is quite high. This is due to the way the oil is extracted (often heat extracted which caused rancidity) and the time it has been in the capsule.
In my opinion with fish oils you often get what you pay for. If you are not willing to pay for the better quality fish oils then you’re wasting your money. In actual fact your doing more harm than good and it would be far more beneficial to eat some oily fish several times a week than it is to buy a rancid fish oil.
Oily fish include swordfish, Atlantic salmon, icefish, oreo, Blue & Spanish mackerel, bonito, mullet, trout, tailor, & herring.
Brands that I can recommend?
The only brand I am yet to find that seems to tick all the boxes as far as sustainability and quality of product goes so far is Nordic Naturals fish oils. This brand is much more transparent with their ingredients (they actually list all of them on the label) and they have a team that is very passionate about the sustainability of fish oil and will talk about this all day long. When speaking to them they claim that there fish oil is fished from sustainable areas in Norway and they have full control of the process from fishermen to bottle. They also very adamant about the way in which the oil is extracted.
I am currently taking the Cod Liver Oil as it is also has levels of Vitamin D & A which also preserve the fish oil so nothing else has to be added.
This is not to say there aren’t any other brands out there that tick the boxes yet but this is the only off the shelf fish oil that in my eyes, that I have found so far that is ok to take. They have great cod liver oil and omega mix fish oil. They also have a great kids range.
Don’t like fish oil or fish?
There are other ways that you can get eha and dha. This will require getting sources of omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acids so that you body can convert them.
Excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids are
- Chia seeds
- Flaxseed and flax seed oil.
- Grass fed beef
Omega 6 oils are much more easier to obtain in the diet and something that you don’t need to worry about getting at it is in many foods. It is the omega 3 essential fatty acid that should be the focus as it is harder to get in the standard western diet, which is one of the reasons that we have a society that suffers from chronic inflammation. Our ratio of omega 6 to 3 essential fatty acids should be of a ratio that should ideally be as low as 3:1. The typical western diet is around 20:1 and this is one of the contributing factors to why we have so many diseases which are lifestyle related.
So I hope this helps clear up some confusion about fish oils.