Fishing For Fish Oil Supplements For Heart Health

You may have come across the famous statement from American Heart Association as “Omega-3 fatty acids benefit the heart of healthy people, and those at high risk of – or who have – cardiovascular disease since the scientific statement was released in 2002. The market just went crazy with thousands of fish oil supplements claiming to be the best. As a consumer, the key question is how to decide on the right fish oil supplement that would actually help you reduce the risk of heart disease.

If you are like most people, you would look for convenience – can I just go to Sam’s Club or Walmart and buy a 6 month supply of some fish oil supplement. I started to shop around for fish oils based on American Heart Association’s recommendation of at least1 grams of EPA + DHA (the two most common omega-3 fatty acids in fish) per serving. To my surprise I went through all the bottles in all the major chain stores and found nothing met the requirements. Right there, I had to take a step back and educate myself much more.

I made a list of the requirements for picking out a suitable fish oil supplement. First and foremost, I was looking for transparency. If anyone advertized saying secret formula or proprietary formula, this was an indication for me to get away from these. There are many of these in the market place where the ingredient label will simply say “Marine Lipid Extract” without any further details. I made it a point to stay away from these.

I started to look out for reputable organizations that are vendor neutral to educate myself. I came across some reputed non-profit organizations that are willing to help educate consumers. One such organization is the DHA/ EPA Omega-3 Institute run by Dr. Holub, Professor Emeritus, Department of Human Health & Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph. He is an expert in the field with his research program focused on dietary omega-3 fatty acids from fish/fish oils, plant oils, and resulting nutraceuticals plus functional foods for human health and the prevention/management of cardiovascular disease and other chronic disorders.  You can ask questions on their website and get reliable answers from experts. 

Another valuable resource is The International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS). IFOS is a global program that provides a service to consumers and industry groups that promote the use of omega-3 products in every country of the world. As a reliable source for third party validation, the IFOS program performs testing for the omega-3 supplement industry and reports the findings following a ranking system for fish oils and cod liver oils. IFOS, through Nutrasource Diagnostics Inc. (NDI, with its certified and accredited reference laboratory partners) tests consumer-ready fish oil products submitted by the manufacturer.

Finally, it is worth looking at the reviews by ConsumerLab, which is an independent testing lab that tests most national brands of health supplements. I purchased their 2008 report for omega-3 fatty acids/ fish oils supplements guide and this lists you the best omega-3 fish oils with clear ranking for purity, concentration and freshness (oxidation levels).

Based on my research, any fish oil supplement you choose should meet the following criteria:

Transparancy and truth in labeling: The label needs to clearly specify nutritional information. Amounts of EPA and DHA should be explicitly specified. The ingredients should specifically state the kind of fish used to extract the oil. Commonly used fish includes anchovies, sardines, salmon etc.

Manufacturing Process: You don’t have to be a scientist to distinguish manufacturing process. Look for molecular distillation as a very important keyword. In addition the process itself, look for the manufacturing facility specifications. For a product to be labeled pharmaceutical grade, the manufacturing needs to occur in what is known as a GMP facility – the same kind of facilities used to make prescription drugs with strict quality controls in place. So, having a product that is “pharmaceutical grade” and “molecularly distilled” is very important. Products manufactured close to the fishing source generally tend to be able to capture the maximum fresness. For maximum absorption, the natural triglyceride form (the form of most fats we normally intake) is ideal.

International Standards: We talked a lot about standards. Standards are set to protect consumers. Fish oil quality standards do not exist in the United States. However, we can look for standards set by other nations such as the stringent Norwegian Medicinal Standard (NMS) and the European Pharmacopoeia Standard (EPS)  which guarantee quality products by setting maximum allowances on peroxides, heavy metals, dioxins, furans, and PCBs.

Endorsements and Awards: Fish oil is so mainstream that we can easily identify market leaders and reputable companies that has won recognizable awards internationally is recommended. These could be awards given by ConsumerLab ratings, socially responsible business awards, environmental responsibililty awards or even direct endorsements by non-profit organizations such as American Heart or American Pregnancy Associations.

Omega-3 Research: It is also useful to see which brand is commonly used in all the various clinical trials by various research institutions (academic) to study the benefits of fish oils so that you know that this is a reliable company/ brand that is trusted by researchers and doctors alike.

Don’t break the bank:  As a final note, you don’t want to spend a fortune. Something that does not cost more than $10 – $20 per month (or max of $20 – $30 per month for concentrates) is a reasonable price to pay for a product that meets all these requirements.