When it comes to taking any medicines or health supplements, getting the right dose is crucial. Whether you’re taking a supplement to boost your diet, improve your overall health or to help you achieve fitness and weight loss goals, knowing how much of each pill to take is key to getting the best results.
The numerous health benefits of omega-3 fish oil supplements are well established. We’ve even written a whole article about it here. With most Americans lacking in dietary sources of the oil, it’s clear that almost everyone can benefit from a daily omega-3 supplement.
To get the most out of your fish oil pill, it’s important to know how much fish oil should you take? What exactly is the right omega-3 dose you should take in order to reap the plethora of health benefits? In this article I’m going to answer those exact questions.
What Are Fish Oil Supplements?
Before we can discuss how much fish oil you should take, it is important to understand what fish oil supplements are.
Fish oil supplements are designed to give your body a boost in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 or alpha-linolenic acid along with omega-6 or linoleic acid, are essential fatty acids that our bodies are incapable of producing on their own.
These long chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids can only be obtained through our diets – either in the food we eat or by supplementation. It is imperative that we get enough essential fatty acids as they are responsible for many processes within the body including:
- Brain development – especially in children
- Healthy cell membrane formation
- Thyroid activity
- Adrenal gland activity
- Producing numerous hormones
- Breaking down cholesterol
Being deficient in the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can lead to a whole host of both physical and mental health issues. Studies have even shown that omega-3 supplementation could possibly be used in the prevention of suicide. (source)
This is why ensuring that you and your family gets enough is imperative, even for children. Although both essential fatty acids are important, omega-3 is the nutrient that the majority of people are deficient in so most supplements focus on this element.
All About Omega-3
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the main components in omega-3 fatty acids. These are what our bodies break omega-3 fatty acids down into. There is vast research into how levels of EPA and DHA affect both our physical and mental health.
Not only does extensive research show that getting enough omega-3s can benefit numerous chronic conditions such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Cardiovascular disease
Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are numerous dietary sources of omega-3s, the highest levels being found in cold water oily fish. Including:
It is suggested by the American Heart Association that we should be aiming for 2-3 servings of fish weekly. However, it is important to note that some fish can contain substances like mercury which should be avoided.
You can also get omega-3s from plant sources such as flaxseed and of course from marine supplements such as fish oil and krill oil.
Where Does Fish Oil Come From?
Fish oil supplements are sourced from cold water oily fish that are either farmed or wild caught. Most fish oil comes from sardines but can be salmon, herring, halibut, mackerel and albacore tuna.
Fish oil supplements come in a range of levels from cheap, low quality products to much better (but more expensive) quality supplements.
What is Krill Oil?
Krill oil is similar to fish oil in the sense it is another form of omega-3 supplement. Krill are small crustaceans which live in oceans throughout the world. Those harvested to make krill oil tend to be from the atlantic ocean. Krill are a major food source for larger marine life such as whales.
Krill are more sustainable than fish and are harvested economically. International organisations like the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) regulate how many krill can be caught each year. This is in order to ensure marine animals are left with enough to eat. Also krill are free from heavy metals like mercury and they are packed with antioxidants.
It is important with krill oil however to ensure you are buying a high quality supplement. Most krill oil products tend to be more expensive as the harvesting and manufacturing of krill oil simply comes at a higher cost. However, there are many fake products being marketed cheaply as krill oil. These actually contain only a small percentage if any krill oil at all and tend to be cheaply made fish oil mixed with colorings to give them the signature red color krill oil has.
Omega-3 and Fitness
Fish oil has become increasingly popular throughout the fitness community due to its positive effects on both weight loss and muscle building. Therefore, fish oil has not only taken off as a wonder supplement for overall health, but also as a workout supplement too.
Fish oil has been shown through research to aid muscle protein synthesis. This is the process where cells combine individual amino acids to build complete proteins. They also found a notable increase in both the mTOR and p70S6K pathways, which are the signalling pathways that control muscle cell growth. Therefore, these studies show that fish oil can help you to build muscle. (source)
Furthermore, as fish oil is shown to reduce whole body inflammation. Therefore, this will aid muscle recovery after a workout. Plus, as fish oil is shown to aid joints and connective tissue, areas that weight training tend to place a lot of strain, fish oil could actually help to minimize training injuries.
For those looking to lose weight, a fish oil supplement can also be helpful. Fish oil has been shown to aid weight loss by suppressing your appetite as well as minimizing fat stores through improving insulin sensitivity.
What is the Right Omega-3 Dose?
Before we can choose the right omega-3 dose, we must consider who is taking it and what are the desired results. For example, the amount of omega-3 you need may be different for aiding overall health compared to using fish oil to aid weight loss. In the same way, the dose of fish oil is different for adults and children.
When choosing an omega-3 supplement it’s important to check the label and see exactly what’s inside. First of all, 1000 mg of fish oil does not equal 1000 mg of omega-3. You need to look at the amount of EPA and DHA in each product and choose a supplement which offers the optimal dose of both. This is often a lot higher than your standard fish oil supplement.
Most standard fish oils offer only around 300 mg of combined DHA and EPA. As an optimal dose (to actually see results) is 3 grams of omega-3s you would need to take around 10 standard capsules. As most products only recommend 2 capsules daily, this is very suboptimal.
The World Health Organization recommends that adults over 18 years get a minimum daily intake of 0.5 grams of daily EPA and DHA. This is the dose recommended solely to maintain optimal health. There are specific doses recommended for treatment of certain ailments and conditions, however, you should always discuss your needs with your doctor before attempting to self medicate with supplements.
The dose of omega-3 for children is not defined. You can find omega-3 in some infant formulas but an effective dose is not yet clear. However eating fresh fish in large doses is not recommended for children due to the risk of contaminants from the environment such as mercury which should be avoided.
Precautions When Taking Fish Oil Supplements
There are of course, some negative effects from consuming too much omega-3. These happen in very rare cases and more often than not omega-3 supplements have no side effects other than an upset stomach or fish burps.
If you are taking any prescription medicines or have a long term health condition, always check with your doctor or pharmacist before introducing a new supplement. In particular, if you take a blood thinner such as warfarin or aspirin, you must avoid omega-3 and fish oil supplements. As a natural blood thinner, you can experience side effects like bruising and even in extreme cases, internal bleeding.
Therefore, it is important to find a product that offers a happy medium. You want a supplement which is going to offer you enough DHA and EPA to actually reap the positive health benefits but not overdose on omega-3s.
When it comes to how much fish oil to take, you must consider what you hope to achieve by supplementation. If you have a particular health condition you wish to use fish oil for, speak with your doctor.
For fitness and general health purposes check the label of products and know that exactly what is inside will be beneficial. Also aim for a high quality fish or krill oil supplement that will offer the highest doses of EPA and DHA per serving.