16 Sep 4 Tips For Interpreting Omega-3 Supplement Labels
Most healthcare professionals agree that omega-3 fatty acid is essential for optimal health. Since eating fish isn’t always the easiest (or even healthiest!) way of getting omega-3 fatty acids1, supplementation becomes necessary to achieve the full anti-inflammatory and other benefits. *
Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the FDA regulates both dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients, which includes omega-3 products.
In accordance to this law, manufacturers and distributors must make sure all health claims and information on the product label, and on other labeling (such as package inserts and accompanying literature), are truthful and not misleading.
This is great news, right?
Absolutely, but only if you take the time to actually read (and discern) the wealth of information made openly available on the variety of boxes and bottles found cramming the pharmacy and big box store shelves.
Remember: just because the label says that the supplement contains omega-3, does not make it the most potent, toxin-free choice.
There are so many supplement choices. How does one choose the best omega-3 possible?
Read. Labels. Critically.
Granted, interpreting labels may not be as edge-of-your-seat reading as say, a Harry Potter novel − but you may be amazed by the wizardry attempted by some manufacturers when you take the time to contrast the marketing claims made by some brands to the facts printed on their own labels.
Here’s what to look for on the label when comparing omega-3 products:
1. Omega-3 fatty acids per serving
There are no hard and fast rules regarding what the optimum amount is, however, a good rule of thumb for omega-3’s is this: more is more. For example, the American Heart Association recommends 1 gram EPA/DHA for those with a documented history of coronary heart disease (CHD) and 2 to 4 grams of EPA/DHA for those who need to lower triglycerides.2
Don’t confuse marketing claims with what is found among the “Supplement Facts” printed on the label.
One omega-3 product, manufactured by a major pharmaceutical, claims to be “ultra- concentrated.” Yet, per the label, possesses a mere 500 mg per two-softgel serving. That means only 60 percent of the gelcap is omega-3. Which begs the question, “what is the rest?”
Another major pharmacy chain’s brand of omega-3 boasts being “100% Pure” with only 300 mg omega-3 per a one softgel serving. In this case, only 28 percent of the gelcap is omega-3!
Don’t mistake omega-6 for omega-3
Beware of products which the label lists omega-6 as an ingredient. The typical American diet tends to contain more than enough omega-6 fatty acids, in the form of processed foods, which can contribute to inflammation.
2. EPA and DHA
Without getting overly scientific, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenboic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) produce anti-inflammatory properties in the human body. Both EPA and DHA are found in wild caught fish.
But, like anything in life, it is all about the balance.
Both EPA and DHA reduce triglyceride levels, but they seem to have differing effects on HDL and LDL cholesterol. DHA increases both LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol while EPA insignificantly reduces LDL levels and does not seem to have any effect on HDL cholesterol.
Striking the perfect balance between these two is imperative to maximize anti-inflammatory properties, without increasing LDL.
Knowing exactly how much EPA+DHA are in your supplements, as well as the balance and potency, is the holy grail for reading omega-3 supplement labels.
For example, the label for this random omega-3 product shows that it has only 30 percent potency. Here’s how you calculate it for yourself:
180mg (EPA) + 120mg (DHA) = 300mg ÷ 1,000mg (fish oil concentrate) = 30%
You’ll also see on this label that the balance of EPA:DHA in this sample omega-3 product is 1.5:1. This is problem. Read on to find out why.
Notice that the this random omega-3 product also contains unwanted saturated fat! Saturated fats raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, which could increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Now compare this to the label of Omax3® Ultra-Pure™
Using the previously mentioned math formula, you’ll see that Omax3 delivers nearly 100% pure omega-3!
And don’t forget to check the balance of EPA to DHA…
Only Omax3 was specifically formulated by physicians affiliated with Yale University to achieve a 4:1 balance of EPA to DHA that supports a proper inflammatory response. In fact, a study has shown that Omax3 may promote proper inflammatory responses better than omega-3 supplements with ratios of 1:1 and 7:1.*
3. Look for where the omega-3 comes from
Take note that Omax3 contains purified (twice!) oil from small fish only. Smaller fish tend not to live as long as bigger species, such as salmon and tuna, and are thus less likely to have pollutants build up in their bodies.
4. And what about what’s not on the label?
Ah, this is where it gets interesting and requires a little more detective work on the part of a discerning, intelligent consumer.
The very same process of chemicals that results in the wonders of EPA and DHA in fish can also lend itself to a concentration of not-so-good “stuff,” such as mercury, lead, dioxins and PCBs.3
And therein lies the dirty little secret that many producers of omega-3 products fail to mention on their labels or in their marketing claims; that is, that their omega-3 product is filled with “extra” ingredients such as unwanted saturated fats, including omega-6 fatty acids, and toxins like mercury, lead, arsenic and PCBs commonly found in fish.
Unlike these other brands, Omax3 proudly declares on its label that it attains exceptional purity through a double distillation process that eliminates these unwanted substances. All batches are 3rd party tested (twice!) for quality assurance. Then Omax3 is tested a third time by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to ensure that it is free from banned substances (which is important documentation for the NCAA, NFL, MLB, and the Olympics).
If the supplement label doesn’t mention that the manufacturer has taken extra steps to ensure that the product contained therein has achieved exceptional purity and NSF standards, it most assuredly does not meet these rigorous standards.
The FDA has mandated that certain information be included on omega-3 supplement labels. READ THESE! It will provide valuable information about the concentration of omega-3 (or lack thereof), as well as the EPA/DHA balance of the product.
Unfortunately, some critical information is not found on the label and must be ascertained via third party testing and other quality assurances. As a consumer, seeking this out takes a little more effort, but it certainly beats ingesting arsenic, mercury, lead and PCBs in the name of “health.”
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
1. Maroon JC, Bost JW. Fish Oil The Natural Anti-Inflammatory. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, 2006, page 51.
2. Maroon JC, Bost JW. Fish Oil The Natural Anti-Inflammatory. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, 2006, page 76.
3. Maroon JC, Bost JW. Fish Oil The Natural Anti-Inflammatory. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, 2006, page 42.