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The Benefits and Pitfalls of Omega-3 Fish Oil

A generous quantity of omega-3 in your diet can have a hugely positive effect on your health, but fish oil it is not without pitfalls. This article guides you though the issues and provides a list of pure sources of omega-3.

The wonders of fish

Very few of us each enough fish. The health benefits of eating fish, particularly oily fish rich in omega-3 are compelling: reduced risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's, dementia and cancer. Consumption of fish has been show to help relieve depression and arthritis, assist in fat metabolism and give young looking skin. The Japanese, the world’s largest fish consuming nation, know all about these wellness benefits. They experience the lowest rates of heart attacks in the world and have very low levels of obesity (outside of the sumo wrestling ring at least).

So we should eat more fish? Well yes, we should, but there are two significant issues that face the Western world in this regard.

Something a bit fishy

Firstly we find a diet so rich in sea food unpalatable to our Western tastes. When US volunteers were asked to consume fish in quantities comparable to the Japanese they lasted three days before they could stomach no more. Many of us would struggle to eat grilled fish and miso soup for breakfast every day.

The second issue is that of fish contamination. Our oceans are not as clean as they used to be and full of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins that travel up the food chain. Today almost no fish farmed or wild are completely clean and they all contain small concentrations of contaminants. These substances pose greatest risk to babies and young children as they attack their developing nervous system, but all regular fish eaters face increased risk of brain and nervous system damage.

The UK food standards agency recommends a maximum of two portions of fish a week for women at any stage of pregnancy and suggests that they completely avoid shark, swordfish and marlin due to their high mercury content. Similarly the FDA recommends that no one should eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish and none of us should consume fish more than twice a week.

Two 6 ounce portions of blue fin tuna a week will give you 2 grams of omega-3 a week; far below the 2.5 grams of omega-3 you need per day to experience the therapeutic effects. So if we follow these guidelines we will never eat enough to get the full benefit.

The omega-3 solution

Omega-3 supplements seem the obvious solution to this problem, providing a palatable clean alternative to eating actual fish. Well it's not quite as simple as that. The vast majority of fish oil supplements are just as high in pollutants as the fish they came from.

Fortunately a refining process discovered in the year 2000 has allowed for the manufacture of highly concentrated omega-3 products. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are two long-chain omega-3s that are used by the body to control inflammation and maintain the brain and nervous system. They are called long-chain as they contain more carbon atoms than other omega-3s. By refining omega-3 to concentrate these molecules a product that has extremely low levels of pollutants is produced.

So how do you pick a supplement low in contaminants but high in long chain omega-3? Many companies seem to claim a “pure” product but appear to judge themselves on a relative scale making it hard for consumers to make informed choices. Fortunately the University of Guelph in Canada has started the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) program with the aim to test batches of omega-3 for quality and purity. Maximum contaminant guidelines are set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). The IFOS tests identify those products which contain a high quality of omega-3 whilst maintaining contaminants at levels well below the guidelines set by WHO and CRN. I would strongly recommend purchasing a brand that meets the IFOS standard.

IFOS approved brands

Choosing a mercury free and PCB free omega-3 brand

The following list contains the supplement brands that when tested and approved by the IFOS. They have all attained one of two awards; the five star rating for ultra-refined super concentration fish oils or a program approval rating for natural grade fish oils. The supplements are grouped by regions to help you find products appropriate for your part of the world.

USA

Zone Labs Omega-RX
Dr Sears ZoneLabs Omega Rx
(Order Dr Sears Patented Omega 3 Fish Oil Concentrates )
IFOS approved. More batches of ZoneLabs Omega-3 products have been tested than any other brand.
Ascenta NutraSea Hp, 200mL, Lemon Zest Ascenta NutraSea Hp, 200mL, Lemon Zest
IFOS approved.
Ascenta NutraSea Hp, 120 Softgels, Lemon Zest Ascenta NutraSea Hp, 120 Softgels, Lemon Zest
Capsule version of above.
Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega, 120 Softgels Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega, 120 Softgels
IFOS approved.
Life Extension Super Omega 3 EPA/DHA 120 Softgels
IFOS Five Star rated
Weil Nutritionals Omega-3 Complex, 90 Softgels
IFOS Five Star rated
Read review
Sea Logix Omega-3 Sea Logix Omega-3
AMB Well Omega-3 PGFO
Victoria Biosciences OMAXTRA
TherOmega

Canada

Ascenta Health NutraSea (From National Nutrition)
Genuine Health o3mega+ fit (From Genuine Health)
Health First Omega First (From Healthy Cupboard)
See Yourself Well Omega-3
Biodroga Canada Sweet Mandarin Orange Fish Oil (Fruity Fish)
Ocean Essence Omega-3 Junior
ONeel Corporation Omega MAX
Nature's Mighty 3's
Nordic Naturals Pro Omega

UK

Ascenta NutraSea Hp, 200mL, Lemon Zest MorEPA
Not IFOS tested but recommended by Sunday Times. Purified by a cO2 distillation process. Available from Health and Essential Ltd
Ascenta NutraSea Hp, 200mL, Lemon Zest Ascenta NutraSea Hp, 200mL, Lemon Zest
IFOS approved. Available from 1st Vitality UK
Ascenta NutraSea Hp, 120 Softgels, Lemon Zest Ascenta NutraSea Hp, 120 Softgels, Lemon Zest
Capsule version of above. Available from 1st Vitality UK

Europe

EnerZona Omega-3 Rx
OMEGOR Vitality

South Korea, Japan

Weston Health Dr. Kim Omega Max

Worldwide

AMB Well Omega-3 PGFO
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