There are an overwhelming number of omega-3 supplements from which to choose. Here is a quick overview of what to look for to help guide your omega-3 supplement decisions. For more information, please check out our “Omega-3 Sources” page.
1. Read the label!
In fish oil, krill oil, or any other kind of “omega-3-rich” oil you can think of, the real “active ingredients” that you are taking are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, in the supplements you are taking, there are other kinds of fatty acids besides EPA and DHA, including other types of omega-3 fatty acids. This is why in a 1000 mg capsule you may only be getting 300 mg of EPA+DHA. If you are trying to take 500 mg of EPA+DHA per day, taking one 1000 mg capsule of fish oil that only contains 300 mg EPA+DHA will not suffice. It’s confusing, right? Bottom line, figure out the amount of EPA+DHA you want to take and then use the Supplement Facts panel to figure out how many pills per day that will require. Here’s an example of a couple Supplement Facts panels of a supplemental fish oil and a krill oil blend.
The label should list the amount of EPA+DHA per capsules. In the fish oil example on the left there is 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA per 1 softgel capsule that contains 1000mg of fish oil concentrate. The krill oil blend example on the right there is 128mg of EPA and 60mg of DHA per 1 softgel capsule that contains 1000mg of krill oil blend. Be wary of supplements that list only the specific amounts of “omega-3s” instead of “EPA+DHA.” Also, be aware of “omega” supplements, which may contain omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. We tend to get plenty of these types of fatty acids in our regular diet so it isn’t necessary to supplement them.
2. Consider the potency!
As you may have read in our last blog there is a difference in the “potency” of different kinds omega-3 supplements. Krill oil, which contains EPA+DHA in phospholipid form, appears to increase the Omega-3 Index at twice the rate of normal fish oil capsules, which are in triglyceride form, or prescription fish oil, which is in ethyl ester form (Backes et al, 2014). The form of the fatty acid affects how it is absorbed and incorporated into tissues. You may be able to get away with taking fewer (and smaller) pills with krill oil but remember to consider the cost per gram of EPA+DHA. Usually krill oil pills cost more per gram of EPA+DHA than regular fish oil pills.
In addition to knowing exactly how much EPA+DHA are in your supplements and what their relative potency is, your genetics and diet also play a role in your Omega-3 Index. Checking your Omega-3 Index before and after supplementing will let you know if you have picked the right supplement for you.