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Out of all vitamins and supplements, fish oil has the most proven benefit. There is very strong evidence that fish oil is beneficial for heart health and brain health.

There is a lot of confusion about the difference between Omega-3 from flax seed versus Omega-3 from fish. There are three types of Omega-3, DHA and EPA which come from fish and ALA which comes from plants and nuts including flax seed. The strongest evidence of benefit is for Omega-3 from fish, not Omega-3 from plant sources. Although flax seed and other sources of ALA are healthy, they should not be the primary source of Omega-3’s because your body has to convert ALA to DHA and EPA and conversion is not always efficient.

The following are key points that you need to know about Omega-3 from fish:

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, and mackeral has the highest amounts of Omega-3’s, approximately 1-2 grams of omega-3 per 3 ounce serving. See a list of fish high in omega-3 and low in contaminants.
  • If you are healthy and already eat these types of fish on most days of the week, you probably don’t need to take a fish oil supplement.
  • If you don’t eat much fish or if you have high triglycerides, heart disease, risk factors for heart disease, arthritis, depression, or attention deficit disorder, you should consider taking a fish oil supplement (1.5 – 3 grams per day which is equal to 1500-3000 mg).
  • Omega-3’s, especially DHA, are essential to brain function.

How to choose a fish oil supplement:

  • Make sure the source of fish is identified. Best sources are anchovies and sardines from clean/cold water sources such as Norway. Larger fish like tuna and salmon are more likely to contain contaminants. I don’t think krill oil is yet proven to be as beneficial as fish oil. Those who say krill oil is better are probably selling it. I am not jumping on the krill oil “band-wagon” yet.
  • Make sure that the milligrams of fish oil equals the milligrams of omega-3. For example, if you are buying 1,000 mg fish oil capsules and the back of the label says the total omega-3 is 400mg then you are getting 600mg of “mystery oil”. This is not a high quality product.
  • I could not find a good quality fish oil at Walgreens or CVS. A couple of good over-the-counter brands are Carlson’s and Nordic Naturals. I am sure there are many other quality brands. You can eliminate most of the poor quality brands by using the above rules. My favorite pharmaceutical grade fish oil is Xymogen OmegaPure 820.

If you need to get caught up with this blog series about supplements, read the previous blogs about whether you should take vitamins, how to read vitamin labels, and vitamin terminology.

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