Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and is also one of the most commonly consumed dietary supplements worldwide. As the popularity of fish oil has grown, there are some misinformation around this compelling nutrient. The top 3 myths about omega-3 fish oil supplements are summarised below:
Myth 1: Consuming fish is the best way to obtain omega-3
According to American Heart Association, those who do not have a history of heart disease are recommended to eat at least 2 servings of fish (particularly fatty fish) a week. Each serving is 3.5 ounce cooked, or about ¾ cup of flaked fish. Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and lake trout, contains high amount of omega-3.
Although fish is a potent source of omega-3 DHA and EPA, the omega-3 content varies widely. There are usually multiple factors involved: type of fish, is the fish wild caught or farm raised, the season and the cooking methods. Wild-caught salmon contains a substantial amount of omega-3, while farm raised salmon can vary hugely in its omega-3 amount depending on the provider. According to BBC reported in 2016, the omega-3 levels in farmed salmon shrank by 50% over a 5-year period, due to cost-cutting measures. In other words, consumers consuming farmed fish today has to double the amount of fish in order to obtain the same amount of omega-3 provided just a few years ago.
Many fish may also contain high levels of environmental contaminants, including heavy metals. As opposed to large fishes, like cod and swordfish (prone contain higher levels of mercury), smaller fish like sardines, anchovies will be better.
Fish oil supplements processed via advanced technology, such as supercritical CO2 extraction are generally free of mercury and other contaminants. This allows sufficient omega-3 intake without the risk of contaminants. For complete peace of mind, you may want to seek fish oil supplements with third-party tested.
Myth 2: Fish oil should smell and taste fishy
Liken to truly fresh fish, truly fresh fish oil has no fishy taste or smell. If it does, the fish oil has started to oxidise or rancid. Besides tasting and smelling bad, taking oxidised or rancid fish oil is in fact harmful. It can cause inflammation, increased bad cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, organ damage and among other problems.
Independent studies from Canada,New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, and more have discovered that the majority of over-the-counter omega-3 fish oil supplements exceed the acceptable oxidation limits, even long before the products’ supposed expiration dates.
Myth 3: Getting a little bit of omega-3 is better than nothing at all
Most people may think that getting a little bit of omega-3 is better than nothing at all. However, current research does not substantiate this and this may not be true. Clinical research always showed that a certain threshold dose must be met for the supplement to make a difference to the health.
1. JAMA Netw Open.1(5): e182327 (2018)
2. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.75(3): 645–662 (2013)
3.Am J Clin Nutr. 96(4): 748–758 (2012)
4. Pharmacol Ther.141(3):272-282 (2014)
These dosages are typically much higher than the recommended amount on label of typical fish oil supplements, which usually contains 30% omega-3. To obtain sufficient dosage for different health concerns, approximately 7 to 10 softgels has to be swallowed each time. Instead, choose pharmaceutical grade fish oil which is also the purest and most potent form of fish oil and also contains the highest concentrations (80 –90%) omega-3 for a functional dosage of fish oil with fewer capsules.