Three critical factors to consider before you take your fish oil

I’ve got to come clean here. I’m feeling conflicted over omega-3s.

Now, don’t get me wrong, The most recent studies on the benefits of omega-3s show tremendous benefits.

Like the research showing high levels of omega-3s can ward off brain shrinkage, for example. This study, which I shared with you a couple weeks ago, showed that postmenopausal women can slow brain atrophy by one to two years . All they need is an additional 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA daily.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a major component of brain tissue. They also convert into anti-inflammatory compounds that can protect your neurons from dying.

But that’s not all they can do. Omega-3s go a long way toward diabetes prevention, too.

In fact, yet another recent study showed that men with high concentrations of EPA and DHA in their blood can cut their risk of developing diabetes by a third .

So, no matter how you look at it, the research into the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is encouraging.

But that’s exactly what makes this such a frustrating topic. Because despite these certainties, the best way to get omega-3s into your body is still a point of controversy.

I’ve had an enormous number of questions from my patients about the best source of omega-3s, as well as the safety of fish oil supplements. And truth be told, it’s something that has been on my mind for quite some time.

Honestly. I think about things like this in the shower, on my way to the office, and other odd places. Because I never want to give you the wrong information, either knowingly or unknowingly.

Plus, the world changes, and so does this industry. (Faster than a lot of us can keep track of, that’s for sure.) So needless to say, this topic remains a pretty persistent conundrum to me.

All I can do is tell you where I stand today, based on the current evidence available. So allow me to do just that.

For starters, I don’t believe in using oil from krill. These tiny crustaceans represent the bottom of the food chain. And we could ruin entire ecosystems if we continued to use krill oil as a primary source of omega-3 fatty acids.

As for the effect of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan and its effect on the radiation levels in the sea–a factor that could affect the safety of our fish sources of omega-3s–I simply don’t have a good answer to that. I don’t know if anyone does at the moment.

Perhaps we need to demand that raw material suppliers test the radiation levels of their products? At the very least, this might give consumers and manufacturers a little peace of mind.

But I can also tell you I would never use a farm-raised source of fish oil. And I would make sure to choose a brand that conducts testing to ensure their product is free of PCBs, mercury, and other toxins.

Does all of this together amount to an ironclad guarantee of safety? No, it doesn’t. But it’s as close as you’re going to get when you’re dealing with a marine product. So it’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with.

I still can’t recommend omega-3s from vegetarian sources (flax, chia, hemp, etc.) as an alternative. As far as I’m concerned, the clinical support just isn’t there at this time. But the beauty of medicine is that it will always evolve if you let it.

The bottom line? I still stand firmly behind fish oil. And I continue to recommend 3,000 mg of EPA and DHA per day. But if I change my mind in the future, you’ll be the first to know.


“Serum omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of incident type 2 diabetes in men: the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor study.” Diabetes Care. 2014 Jan;37(1):189-96.