Fish Oil: EPA and DHA are What Counts!

Fish oil is a supplement made from the fats and/or livers of fish such as cod, salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines.

Fish oil provides a variety of benefits when supplemented. It can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, to treat high triglycerides and high blood pressure, and to improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It can also decrease the risk of diabetes and several forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

Many people focus on the dosage of fish oil to take, like 1000 mg or 1200 mg, but it is the two types of omega-3 fatty acids to focus on - DHA and EPA. Fish oil is also rich in vitamins A and D. For example, 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil contains about 13,000 international units of vitamin A and 1,300 international units of vitamin D.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids cannot be manufactured in the body and must be derived from food. Fish oil contains two omega-3s called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Dietary sources of DHA and EPA are found in seafood, including fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, and trout) and shellfish (e.g., crab, mussels, and oysters). Some nuts, seeds and vegetable oils (e.g., flaxseed oil) contain another omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3. ALA can be converted, usually in small amounts, into EPA and DHA in the body.

How much EPA and DHA do I Need?
Respected health care organizations proposed intake recommendations for oily fish of two servings per week for healthy adults, which equates to approximately a daily total of 500 mg EPA+DHA.
A standard 1000 mg fish oil softgel usually provides around 300 mg of omega-3s, and to meet the 500 mg EPA and DHA recommendation, a minimum of two softgels would be necessary. Make sure to read the “Supplement Facts” label to determine the amount of EPA and DHA in a fish oil/omega-3 supplement.

The American Heart Association recommends 1,000 mg of omega-3s daily.

  • Minimum recommended dose: 500 mg of Omega-3 per day.
  • For Optimum Health: minimum 1,000 mg Omega-3 per day.
  • Omega-3 deficiency-related conditions: 2,000 mg or more Omega-3 per day.

Tip: 1,000 mg of Omega-3 and 1,000 mg of Fish Oil are not the same! It's important to consider how much EPA and DHA is in a supplement, not just how much fish oil it contains.

What does the FDA say about Fish Oil Dosage?
The FDA says it is safe to take up to 3,000 mg of Omega-3s per day.

Omega-3 Fish Oil and Safety
Too much fish oil could thin your blood, creating problems with clotting and bruising. You shouldn’t take more than 3,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day without your doctor's supervision.
Many doctors encourage people who are planning surgery to stop taking omega-3 supplements a week or two before the procedure.

Also, the main concerns about supplementing with fish oil are a potential for vitamin A toxicity and vitamin E depletion. For example, 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil contains about 13,000 international units of vitamin A. The tolerable upper limit for adults is 10,000 international units of vitamin A daily.

Vitamin E Depletion
The only vitamin that fish oil may interfere with is vitamin E. Some clinical studies have noted that vitamin E levels gradually drop in people who consume fish oil supplements long-term, according to the “Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-Based Clinical Reviews.” The theory is that absorbing fish oil uses vitamin E, so your body’s requirement for the vitamin is greater when taking fish oil supplements.

Omega-3 Fish Oil and Pregnancy
Scientific research is constantly expanding our knowledge of nutritional needs in pregnancy. Among the most recent developments in this field is the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in both the development of a healthy baby and in the health of the mother.

What Should I Look for in an Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplement?
Given the increasing environmental pollution of our oceans, it is important to purchase fish oil from a reputable manufacturer that follows Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and takes the necessary steps to purify the oil.

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