By Anne-Marie Chalmers, MD
Taking fish oil? Are you noticing results?
When it comes to getting benefits from an omega-3 supplement, taking an effective dose of the right kinds of fatty acids is crucial. Take a moment to grab your supplement, if you’re taking one, and then keep reading to find out if your fish oil is living up to your expectations.
First Things First: Why Is Fish Oil Beneficial?
Fish oils contain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, a group of nutrients found in every cell of the body. Omega-3s are critical for fighting inflammation and promoting healthy cellular functioning. That’s why scientists have extensively researched these fatty acids for a variety of health issues, including cardiovascular health, mood disorders, cancers, joint problems, skin issues, dry eyes, and much more.
The two most important members of the omega-3 family are called EPA and DHA for short. Found predominantly in fish and fish oil, EPA and DHA are not the only types of omega-3s that exist. However, almost all omega-3 research to date has concentrated on these two fatty acids.
When you read about the benefits of omega-3s in the news, it’s usually EPA and DHA from fish and fish oil that they’re talking about – not the plant-based omega-3 found in walnuts, flaxseed or chia seeds (that one’s called ALA).
Fish Oil Benefits Are Dose-Dependent
In research, you’ll often see scientists refer to omega-3s as having a dose dependent effect. Simply put, the beneficial effects of omega-3s are related to the amount consumed.
In research showing clinical benefits, scientists frequently use much higher doses than what’s found in a regular fish oil capsule – usually 6 to 10 times more omega-3s! In fact, numerous studies show that the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3s don’t kick in unless you consume at least 2000 mg EPA/DHA daily.
For certain conditions – like rheumatoid arthritis, hyperlipidemia, and cancers – the daily doses necessary to have an effect can be even higher (3000 mg EPA/DHA and up).
Many Omega-3 Supplements Contain Low Levels of EPA/DHA
Unfortunately, many supplements contain deceptively low omega-3 doses. Oftentimes, capsules advertise that they provide 1000 mg of fish oil. However, since natural (non-concentrated) fish oils contain a maximum of 30% EPA and DHA combined, that means you only get 300 mg of EPA/DHA per capsule.
Natural krill oil capsules contain an even lower percentage of omega-3s.
With most capsule products, these percentages mean you have to swallow handfuls of pills to get any benefits.
How Does Your Fish Oil Supplement Stack Up?
The best way to discover how much omega-3 is available in your fish oil supplement is to look at the EPA and DHA levels listed in the supplement facts.
If you don’t have your omega-3 product handy, we’ve done the work for you by calculating the number of servings necessary to get 2000-3000 mg EPA/DHA in different supplement categories. Keep in mind that specific products will vary depending on the brand and source of the oil. See chart below
If you can’t imagine swallowing all those pills, you’re not alone. That’s why alternatives to capsules – like fresh liquid fish oil – exist.
Do I Need to Take a Fish Oil Supplement?
The amount of omega-3s a person needs varies depending on diet, lifestyle, age, genetics, and health condition. One thing is certain, however: Most of us need more omega-3s than we think we do.
In the United States, an estimated 95% of Americans do not have optimal omega-3 levels. Even in surveys of omega-3 supplement users, only 19% of participants achieved adequate omega-3 scores.
If you think you already consume enough omega-3s, a simple omega-3 index blood test can provide the answer.
Feeling the Difference
Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids is a wonderful way to improve your health. If you’re hoping to experience noteworthy results, however, pay attention to the dose. It makes all the difference!
This article was abbreviated from a longer version published on omega3innovations.com. For the full text, visit:
About Anne-Marie Chalmers, MD
Born and raised in the United States, Dr. Chalmers graduated from Brown University and completed her medical training at the University of Oslo in Norway. Dr. Chalmers practiced medicine in Norway for many years. Today, she serves as president of Omega3 Innovations.