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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Getting the right dose of fish oil

Friday, April 11, 2014
Fish oils are now widely used for easing problems like joint pain, skin rashes, depression and anxiety, and boosting cardiovascular health. But there’s a side to taking fish oils that not everyone is aware of: the right dose, and also whether the particular fish oil you’re buying has enough of the active ingredient. So retrieve your tub of fish oils from the pantry and let’s look at what makes them good, or maybe not so useful.

Most oil capsules contain one or two grams of oil, and have ‘1000mg fish oil or 2000mg fish oil’ prominently displayed on the label. But it’s the active ingredient that matters, not the quantity of oil in the capsuleThe active ingredients in fish oils which do all the work in your body are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). They’re fatty acids, the molecules in the oil that affect the cells of your body and brain. Most fish oil capsules contain about half-and-half of each fatty acid, and some specialist oils contain primarily one or the other. For now, just add up the total amount of EPA + DHA in each capsule from your tub.

A ‘low dose’ fish oil will contain only 300mg total EPA/DHA per capsule; a high dose fish oil capsule about 600mg, and some of the very high strength liquid fish oils much more than this, perhaps 2,800mg in one teaspoon. Now you know how powerful – or not – your capsules are.

Next, let’s look at the dose you need to make a difference. In my experience, the minimum dose needed to make a difference is at least 1,800mg of the EPA and DHA combined, and I will often prescribe 2,000mg or more. A recent study conducted in Australia about the use of fish oils for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis found that to make a positive difference, the study participants had to take at least 3,700mg of EPA/DHA fatty acids every day. You can see that if you’re trying to improve your condition with only one capsule per day, you might need to review your dose.

The right dose of EPA/DHA for you is something you should discuss with your health practitioner, who knows your condition and your current medications. (Remember that many supplements and prescription medications can clash). There are some concerns that fish oils can increase bleeding time, so if you’re taking blood thinning medication or about to undergo surgery then whether you take fish oils, and how much, is definitely something to discuss with your doctor. But at least now you know how to recognise powerful enough fish oils when you come across them.

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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