How to Choose a Fish Oil Supplement
Why Omega-3 Oils Help at the Cellular Level
Findings suggest possibility of boosting their health benefit
For the first time, researchers at the University of California, San Diego have peered inside a living mouse cell and mapped the processes that power the celebrated health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. More profoundly, they say their findings suggest it may be possible to manipulate these processes to short-circuit inflammation before it begins, or at least help to resolve inflammation before it becomes detrimental.
The work is published in the May 14, 2012 online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The therapeutic benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in certain fish oils, have long been known, dating back to at least the 1950s, when cod liver oil was found to be effective in treating ailments like eczema and arthritis. In the 1980s, scientists reported that Eskimos eating a fish-rich diet enjoyed better coronary health than counterparts consuming mainland foods.
“There have been tons of epidemiological studies linking health benefits to omega-3 oils, but not a lot of deep science,” said Edward A. Dennis, PhD, distinguished professor of pharmacology, chemistry and biochemistry. “This is the first comprehensive study of what fish oils actually do inside a cell.”
The scientists fed mouse macrophages – a kind of white blood cell – three different kinds of fatty acid: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA). EPA and DHA are major polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, essential to a broad range of cellular and bodily functions, and the primary ingredient in commercial fish oil dietary supplements. AA is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid prevalent in the human diet.
In high levels, fatty acids are toxic, so cells typically sequester them as phospholipids in their membranes. When stimulated, however, the fatty acids may be released, provoking a cascading inflammatory response. Acute or limited inflammation is, of course, a vital immunological response to physical damage or invasive pathogens. But chronic inflammation is harmful and a common element of almost every disease, from diabetes to cancer.
After supplementing the mouse macrophages with fatty acids, the scientists stimulated them to produce an inflammatory response. They discovered that omega-3 fatty acids inhibit an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX), which produces the prostaglandin hormones that spark inflammation. The action is similar to what happens when one takes an aspirin, which disrupts the COX-2 signaling pathway, thus reducing inflammation and pain.
On the other hand, Dennis and co-author Paul C. Norris, a graduate student in the chemistry and biochemistry department and the molecular pharmacology training program, discovered that omega-3 oils do not inhibit another group of enzymes called lipoxygenases (LOX), which are also produced by stimulated macrophages. One type of generated LOX enzyme in turn produces fat-signaling molecules called leukotrienes, which are pro-inflammatory. But Norris noted that LOX enzymes may also generate anti-inflammatory compounds called resolvins from EPA and DHA.
These observations, he said, are also helpful in identifying potential adverse effects from taking fish oil. Since omega-3 fatty acids possess overlapping functions with COX inhibitor drugs, with well-known side effects, using both in combination can produce unexpected consequences.
It is this parsing of what’s happening inside cells that Dennis called “ground-breaking.”
“We’ve been able to look inside a cell, see what fish oils do and determine that the process of inflammation at this level may be manipulatable,” he said. “Now, we need to learn if we can fine-tune that process so we can use omega-3 oils to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and boost the production of anti-inflammatory resolvins.”
Funding for this research came, in part, from the LIPID MAPS Large Scale Collaborative Grant U54 GM069338 (Jean Chin and Sarah Dunsmore, program officers) and Grant R01 GM64611 (Jean Chin, program officer) from the National Institutes of Health; and the UC San Diego Graduate Training Program in Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology National Institutes of Health Grant T32 GM007752.
# # #
Media Contact: Scott LaFee, 619-543-6163,
How to Pick the Right Omega-3 Supplement: A Checklist
The health and wellness community has for years touted the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. These benefits range from cardiovascular health, cholesterol reduction, anti-inflammatory properties to improved brain function. These benefits created consumer demand, and the industry responded by marketing omega-3 in everything from gummy vitamins to yogurt, and even in supplements for our four-legged friends.
However, current conversation in the vitamins and supplements space is that of transparency: specifically, whether all manufacturers are making it clear for consumers to understand what they’re getting, where they’re getting it from – and if it will deliver in optimizing your health. In other words: how do you know if you’re picking the right supplement?
As far as omega-3 goes, there are a few components that will help you gauge the quality of your supplement. It is not a coincidence that these are also at the heart of what makes Oceanblue different, and at the core of entire range of omega-3 products.
Here’s a checklist below:
Identify Your Daily Dosage
Each desired health benefit – whether cardiovascular health, decreased inflammation, or improved brain function – requires a different daily dose of omega-3. GOED-the global organization for EPA & DHA omega-3s – offers the following intake recommendations for three key benefits. Once you’ve identified how much omega-3 you require daily in order to achieve your desired benefit, you’re in a better position to narrow your search.
Evaluate Dose Per Capsule (Concentration)
According to GEOD, seafood is the primary source of EPA and DHA in the diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend two servings of fatty fish per week to deliver the recommended amount of omega-3s your body needs to support cardiovascular health. For pregnant and lactating women, that recommended dosage about doubles. And for general health, we’re looking at more than 1g (vs. mg) of Omega-3 EPA+DHA per day. That’s a lot of salmon and other natural sources – daily.
Which brings us to the benefit of supplements. It will be challenging for most people to consume sufficient cold-water, fatty fish (or other omega-3 food sources) to reach the minimum recommended daily dosage, so supplements make sense. Your task then becomes evaluating a supplement that delivers that dose as efficiently as possible. The higher quality the Omega-3 and the stronger its concentration, the fewer capsules you’ll need to swallow daily.
1 soft gel daily of a high-quality supplement like Oceanblue Omega-3 2100 will deliver 1,050mg of omega-3 fatty acids (675mg EPA/ 300mg DHA/ 75mg DPA). These supplements are sourced from wild-caught anchovies and sardines with zero to low mercury exposure off the Peruvian coast. In case you’re running the calculations, that’s more than twice GOED’s daily recommendation to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Research the Source of Omega-3 Oil(type of fish and geography)
The type of fish your Omega-3 supplement is sourced from – as well as the geography (or farm) from which it is sourced from – should be clearly labeled on your supplement, to afford you the opportunity to research potential contamination levels in those waters, sustainability practices, and other guildlines.
Ocean Blue sources the anchovies from the coast of Peru, where very cold waters are known to possess no to extremely low contaminants. Peru’s anchovies in particular have very high Omega-3 content. This is thanks to a strong current that delivers nutrients directly into their feeding zone. The fishery employs conservative measures to protect the bio-source, and to ensure the sustainability of this natural resource. Your research should ideally lead you to responsible manufacturers and suppliers.
Stay the Course
Once you’ve selected the right omega-3 supplement for your dosage requirement, the reality is that it will only benefit you if you take it consistently. If it requires 4 daily capsules to achieve that dose, you should take those 4 capsules at the same times daily – and not just for 4-6 weeks (we’re talking long-term here). For this reason, we recommend selecting a high-quality and high-potency omega-3 supplement like Oceanblue Omega-3 2100. Taking 1 to 2 capsules a day for 6 years will be a far easier and more sustainable habit to form than taking 4 or 6 daily.
Look for Oceanblue Omega-3 at your local Price Chopper/Market32 store!
How to Choose a Fish Oil Supplement
We’re far more likely to associate foods like chocolate or strawberries with February than, say, fish and fish oil. Unlike oysters, with their reputation as an aphrodisiac, fish and its oil hardly inspires warm and sexy thoughts – possibly a result of the decidedly unromantic side effect of “fishy burps” that some people may experience from eating fish or consuming rancid or cheaply-coated fish oil capsules. But February is American Heart Month. And as such, the benefits of eating fatty fish (among which tilapia isn’t counted) and taking fish oil supplements merit some attention.
Fish oil is among the best sources of biologically-active, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, which play a role in protecting our blood vessels from becoming thickened and narrow from hardened deposits of fat and minerals. Research has shown omega-3s exert their cardio-protective influence through a variety of mechanisms, including interfering with aggregation of clot-forming blood platelets; inhibiting the release of inflammatory compounds that promote plaque formation in the arteries; and helping reduce triglyceride levels in the blood. Omega-3s are one of two “essential fatty acids” that must be obtained from the diet, since we humans cannot manufacture them ourselves. Several plant-based foods, such as flaxseeds and walnuts, contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 that our bodies are able to convert – albeit inefficiently – into the more biologically-active forms of EPA and DHA.
For people who don’t enjoy omega-3-rich fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies or lake trout – or who simply don’t eat these foods regularly – fish oil supplements may be an option worth considering. While researchers continue to debate whether supplemental fish oil offers the same benefits as eating fish regularly, many doctors have become vocal advocates for the supplemental form, particularly for their patients at risk for heart disease. If you’ve considered taking fish oil but are confused about how to start, read on:
1. Talk to your doctor about a dose that meets your therapeutic goals. It’s important to discuss what your doctor or dietitian believes to be an appropriate and safe dose for you, given your individual health profile and any other medications or supplements you use. Since fish oil can have a blood thinning effect at higher doses, it may increase risk of bleeding in people who take other medications with similar effects, such as daily aspirin, vitamin E or certain prescription medications – particularly Plavix (clopidogrel) or Coumadin (warfarin).
If you don’t eat at least two servings of fatty fish per week, an equivalent dose in fish oil currency would be about 400 to 500 milligrams per day of combined EPA and DHA. This is the recommended intake for healthy adults without a history of heart disease to meet their basic needs. The recommendation for people with coronary heart disease, or a narrowing in the arteries as the result of plaque buildup, is 1 gram per day (1,000 milligrams) of combined EPA/DHA. Doses higher than this should only be taken under the supervision of a medical doctor; for example, by people with high triglycerides who may require doses in the range of 2 to 4 grams (2,000 to 4,000 milligrams) of combined EPA/DHA per day for therapeutic benefit. Similarly, for those with high blood pressure, around 3 grams (3,000 milligrams) of EPA/DHA per day has been shown to be a therapeutic dose.
2. Learn how to decode the supplement label. The two most important numbers on a fish oil label are: the actual omega-3 content, expressed in milligrams of EPA and DHA, respectively; and the number of pills contained in a serving size.
Fish oil (and algae or krill oil) dosing is based on the actual omega-3 content of the product. To determine the actual omega-3 content of a dose, you'll need to read the supplement facts level and add up the listed milligrams of both EPA and DHA to see what dose you're actually getting (remember: one gram is 1,000 milligrams; two grams are 2,000 milligrams). Be aware that these numbers are almost never listed on the front of the label. In fact, fish oil marketers often mislead consumers by claiming a high number of milligrams of total fish oil on the front label – such as "1,200 milligrams fish oil." But this refers to the amount of the oil itself, not the actual omega-3 content.
In plant-based omega-3 products such as flaxseed oil or ground flaxseeds, omega-3 content will be listed in terms of ALA, rather than EPA or DHA. As a general rule, 10 percent of the listed ALA will be converted to EPA/DHA. So if you’re seeking a dose of 500 milligrams EPA/DHA, you’ll need to take a vegetarian product with 5,000 milligrams (5 grams) of ALA. For reference, 1 tablespoon of cold-pressed flaxseed oil can have up to 7,000 milligrams of ALA, though some experts suggest that men in particular may be better off getting their plant-based omega 3s from ground flaxseeds rather than flaxseed oil. One tablespoon of ground flaxseeds can have 1,500 milligrams (or slightly more) of ALA.
Next, you’ll need to pay attention to the serving size that corresponds to the listed nutrition content. When you do, you may notice that in some products, a single "dose" that contains your desired amount of omega-3s may consist of anywhere from two to six pills! If you don't read the fine print, you risk getting far less than you think by taking only a single pill. If you require a higher dose of fish oil – anything more than 1,000 milligrams of EPA/DHA daily – you may want to seek out a more concentrated product in order to minimize the number of pills required.
3. Select a reputable product. Fish oils are no different than any other laxly-regulated dietary supplement category, prone to inaccurate label claims and contamination. Indeed, recent testing of 30 leading fish oil products by an independent lab showed that the average omega-3 content varied by 24 percent compared to its label claim, though individual products ranged from having 50 percent less to 90 percent more (!) than promised. While there is the theoretical concern that fish oil could be contaminated with excessively high levels of toxins such as mercury or PCBs, multiple studies that have analyzed a variety of fish oil products have shown levels to be safe by and large, and possibly even below those one would encounter through eating actual fish (see here and here, for example).
Multiple independent lab companies conduct periodic reviews of commercially available supplement products to audit their omega-3 content and assess their purity. Before recommending any products to my patients, I vet them through one such subscription-based service, Another company, Labdoor, recently audited more than two dozen fish oil products and released its list of best products online. In my practice, I recommend products from manufacturers whose products have passed the test of purity and label accuracy, and that offer concentrated doses so that only one to two pills is required to meet needs. Of note, the expensive prescription fish oil product Lovaza contains a comparable dose of EPA/DHA (840 milligrams per capsule) to some reputable over-the-counter products, including GNC’s Triple Strength Fish Oil – a product frequently promoted at “buy one, get 50 percent off second one.” This underscores an important point about fish oil pricing: Among reputable manufacturers, the more expensive products are not always better!