The omega 3/fish oil issue has been debated time and time again, and I think at the very least most people know that they provide some health benefits. The majority of omega 3/fish oil supplements you’ll see will typically recommend ‘1-3 capsules per day’.
The questions are: Is this enough? Are generic, widely available fish oil supplements even worth taking?
What’s in a fish oil capsule?
When buying your fish oils, the two important components you need to be checking the label for are Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). As an example, a fairly common dosage for a single fish oil capsule is 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA. When total grams of fish oil are calculated it is the combination of EPA and DHA, so for example one ‘standard’ fish oil capsule would provide a total of 0.3g of fish oil (0.180+0.120=0.3g), and five capsules would provide 1.5g ([5×0.180]+[5×0.120]=1.5g)
A lot of research has been done into high doses of fish oil, and its potential benefits – what evidence exists that points to medical benefits from increased fish oil dosages?
(DISCLAIMER –I am NOT claiming high(er)dosages of fish oil will CURE the following conditions. I have used the following studies as examples to show how certain dosages can have a positive effect on the conditions, and therefore why high(er) doses may be worth taking).
Mental Health – 1.2g-9.6g
It has been suggested that an increase in omega 3 can help with the transfer of serotonin across brain cells, therefore directly affecting ones mood and potentially alleviating some of the symptoms of depression. The higher end of the dose mentioned above (9.6g) has been shown to stabilise bipolar disorder (Stoll et al. 1999). The largest ever study used a 1.2g dosage with 432 depressed patients and showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms (Lesperance et al. 2011).
Fat loss – 2-3g
High concentrations of omega 3 have been shown to activate fat burning enzymes when coupled with exercise. Hill et al. (2007) showed a significant increase in fat loss when fish oil supplements are coupled with exercise, rather than exercise on its own. Thorsdottir et al (2007) found their subjects who supplemented with fish oil lost around 1kg more weight than those who did not over only 4 weeks.
Anti-inflammation – 1.2-1.8g
Although at times inflammation in the human body can be a good thing (increased blood supply to a bruise to aid in healing etc), sometimes it can exacerbate some major health issues (diabetes, heart disease, back pain etc). Omega 3 has been shown to affect how certain immune cells function (Young Oh et al. 2010) and dosages of 1.8g per day were found to have a direct effect on localised inflammation (Bouwens et al. 2009). Maroon and Bost (2005) showed a 1.2g dosage of fish oil per day had the equivalent effect on reducing back pain as ibuprofen.
Here’s a useful table for some price and dosage comparisons, I have used my own current dosage (3g) for the comparisons (prices accurate as of December 2012);
[table] Brand ,MyProtein Super Omega-3,MyProtein Omega 3,Lloyds Pharmacy High Strength Omega-3,Tesco Omega-3 Fish Oil,Holland&Barrett Omega-3 Fish Oil,Pure Pharma Omega-3
Cost Per Pot,£29.99 (250 Capsules),£9.79 (250 Capsules),£5.66 (60 Capsules),£4.29 (90 Capsules),£29.25 (250 Capsules),£25 (120 Capsules)
Total Fish Oil Per Capsule (g),0.76,0.3,0.24,0.3,0.3,0.67
Number of Capsules Required for 3g of Fish Oil,4,10,13,10,10,5
Cost Per Day (3g of Fish Oil),48p,39p,£1.23,48p,£1.17,£1.04
Cost Per Week,£3.36,£3.73,£8.61,£3.36,£8.19,£7.28[/table]
So clearly MyProtein comes out on top where value is concerned. I would always go for the purer fish oil capsules (the ones with more total omega 3 per capsule) as the less pure capsules potentially contain more toxins and mercury.
Who should avoid taking fish oils?
Fish oils have a mild blood thinning effect so people with blood clotting disorders (hemophilia) or people who are taking blood thinning medication such as warfarin should consult their doctor first.
So how much should you take?
Assuming you’re not super dosing fish oils therapeutically (which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend and should ALWAYS be cleared with your doctor first) I would say the average person’s health would benefit from 1.8g-3g of fish oil per day.