How to Pick the Right Fish Oil?

By request, I want to spotlight Omega 3's and in particular, focusing on fish oil and how to pick the right one.  

Looks aren't deceiving.

At minimum let's think about using our senses. If it smells like a fish market or looks pale in color, or if you've had it for more than 1 year in the cabinet- throw it away.

Most people don't think about fish oil or other omega  3 oils going rancid, but like any other oil, it can go bad.   Oxidized fish oils are essentially as bad a taking a tablespoon of deep fryer oil- YUK!

Keep your precious oils in the fridge so you can prolong the shelf life.  If you're taking for casual use, you may be less consistent- even more important for you to keep refrigerated. Those taking high doses means you should be going through a bottle or perhaps 2 per month. For ease of compliance, leave them in a cool place not exposed no exposed to direct sunlight.

Total Omega 3 vs. EPA vs. DHA

What to look for when buying fish-oil supplements: Fish oil supplements vary in the amounts and ratios of DHA and EPA they contain. For example, flax oil has tons of  total omega 3 or ALA, but little EPA or DHA. You'll need to dose in large quantities to get the same effects.  Salmon oil naturally contains more DHA than EPA; a supplement derived from algae may only contain DHA. Krill oil contains significant amounts of both EPA and DHA and has naturally occurring lipocarotenoids (a phospholipids). Read the labels!

 You may see the following:  

  • Alpha-linelenic acid (ALA) found in other sources like English walnuts and vegetable oils like flaxseed, chis seeds, soybean and olive which the body eventually, but in small quantities, converts to EPA/DHA.
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found primarily in fish and algae based oil. It's more difficult to naturally convert from ALA.  Highly necessary in neuronal development.
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a precursor to DHA- also found in fish oil. Highly effective in helping inflammatory diseases, joint issues and studies show improvement in mood disorder with selective EPA therapy.

I dose fish oil according to medical need.  A maintenance dose is much lower that someone who have an inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or elevated lipid levels. Studies show therapeutic effect of both EPA and DHA, so I don't prescribe one without the other except in pregnancy and in early childhood development.  

For maintenance- fish oils should be dosed daily at 400mg of EPA and 250 of DHA and always taken with food. Taking with food improves absorption as well as prevents burping of hiccups of fishy taste. If you are vegan or allergic to fish- give the algae based oils a chance.

Cost is never an issue with fish oil. Spend the money to get good quality and high potency if needed. 

My favorites:  Nordic Naturals (high potency and for kids) , Carlson's, Deva (Vegan), Greenpasture (fermented), Seroyal (high potency and pharmaceutical quality)


Be wary of where the fish is sourced from. Here's a story on deformities of fish from the gulf post BP oil spill- which means the entire food chain is affected by our environmental carelessness- from algae to small fish and shellfish.  Pollutants in the sea = pollutants concentrated in our food supply.

Fish oil may contain unsafe levels of toxins like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), a toxin and pollutant believed to pose various health threats. To avoid contaminants in an unrefined supplement, it's best to choose a fish-oil supplement made from small oily fish like anchovy, sardines or even krill.  

Another tip is to feel free to call the supplement manufacturer and ask for copies of their certificates of analysis. They should have no problem providing that information for you.

We know that fish contains heavy metals, but not all fish are created equal. Naturally occurring sources of trace minerals like selenium helps with upregulating the Glutathione Reductase antioxidant network- this system helps fish to detox from persistent metals and environmental toxins they are exposed to.

I test people for heavy metals using a chelator-challenge protocol and often see high levels of mercury and lead. This can be from a seafood dominant diet or from mercury fillings, or due to one's occupation. The point here is if fish need extra doses selenium and trace minerals to detox, so do humans. (TAKE YOUR MULTIVITAMIN!)

This article is an eyeful, but should give you a good headstart on picking the right fish oil. You're Welcome!