While quality fish oil and omega-3s can be immensely effective supplements (for example: lowering fat levels in the blood – triglycerides), the industry’s average time from “catch to capsule” is 2-3 years. This means many fish oil capsules contain rancid fish oil, which can actually be harmful to your health. This study found fish oil supplements from three top-selling brands in the U.S. contained toxins, oxidized lipids, and saturated fats (all in quantities above international standards).
But with so many fish oil options on the shelves and little FDA regulation, how can you know which ones are the highest quality?
A Story from our (Fish Oil-Supplementing) Founder
When Fitness Formulary founder Adam Southam, was told he had deadly levels of fat (triglycerides) in his blood (the condition, hyperlipidemia), his doctor prescribed a cook book instead of medication. Salmon, yams, and wild rice were part of the menu. Ninety days later he had improved 300%. Next, his doctor prescribed fish oil. He went to a popular store, searching for fish oil, peering at labels, and trying to understand which brands were right for his condition. Frustrated, he called his doctor, who told him to leave the store and order from a trusted brand online instead. Over the course of the next 90 days, he supplemented the salmon he ate with high quality fish oil and healthy fatty acids (omega-3s), bringing Adam’s triglyceride levels down by another 75%. This immense success wouldn’t have been possible if Adam had bought a poor quality fish oil supplement that day.
If Adam had already owned a bottle or two of fish oil, an easy test he could’ve performed at home would have given him an idea of how fresh his capsules were (see The Bite Test, below). If he didn’t own any fish oil yet, following the Four Fish Oil Tips at the end of this article would’ve set him up for success.
The Bite Test
An easy, straightforward way to gauge fish oil freshness.
Step 1: Acquire fish oil
Step 2: Open bottle
Step 3: Take out single capsule
Step 4: Bite the capsule
Step 5: Taste!
Does it taste fishy? No? Then you’ve probably got some great fish oil in those capsules.
Hesitant to try biting the capsule, or not sure if it’s fishy or not? Follow the flowchart below.
Don’t have a capsule to bite? Skip to the Four Fish Oil Tips below to find out how to pick a quality fish oil supplement in the first place.
Four Fish Oil Tips
1. Pick a bioavailable (easily absorbed) form
Omega-3s are best in the form of free fatty acids or triglycerides, which also happens to be their natural state. If the form is a different, less effective one, it will probably be unspecified or listed in the ingredients as “fish oil concentrate” (ethyl ester form). If you don’t like swallowing large fish oil capsules, you can also purchase fish oil in liquid form (even easier to taste-test, too!).
2. Check the levels of EPA & DHA
These are the most clinically “active” components in fish oil. Ideally, these numbers are somewhat balanced, and make up at least 1 gram per serving.
3. Look for 3rd party certifications
EuroFins and International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) have higher quality standards than United States Pharmacopeia (USP). Therefore, products that are EuroFins- and IFOS-compliant have been tested more thoroughly for contaminants.
4. Check for an expiration date and batch number
If there’s no expiration date, big uh-oh. Fish oil does expire. As far as batch number is concerned, it’s something any quality manufacturer will have. Better yet, request a certificate of analysis (COA) for the batch, which will tell you EPA & DHA levels as well as levels of heavy metals, oxidation, and any other contaminants. If the manufacturer doesn’t have a batch specific COA, another big uh-oh.
A high quality fish oil or other omega-3 supplement can be an asset to your health, reducing inflammation, and supporting brain and joint health. A low quality one on the other hand, can counter your health and wellness goals.