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How to choose a safe, effective fish oil supplement

(ARA) - Americans now swallow fish oil more often than multivitamins, according to ConsumerLab's recent annual survey of vitamin and supplement users. And it's no wonder why - fish oil is one of the best supplements anyone can take.

"Over the past 30 years, more than 7,000 scientific studies, including 900 human clinical trials, have provided evidence supporting the effectiveness of fish oil and omega-3 EFAs in the prevention and treatment of our most common diseases," says Dr. Joseph Maroon, author of 'Fish Oil: The Natural Anti-Inflammatory.' "These diseases include cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, hyperlipidemia, Alzheimer's disease, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, dry eye syndrome and many other health conditions ... and they do not have the potentially lethal side effects of pharmacological agents."

But not all fish oils are created equal, and quality is key to receiving these important health benefits. So how do you know you are getting a high quality, safe and effective product? What should you look for when choosing a fish oil supplement?

"The major manufacturing concerns that separate high-quality supplements from the rest of the pack are purity, freshness and concentration," Maroon says.

Purity is important because all fish store environmental toxins such as mercury and PCBs in their bodies, and some fish oil manufacturers do a much better job at removing these contaminants than others. You can protect yourself from harmful toxins by choosing products that are molecularly distilled for purity and verified by third-party testing, always surpassing the strictest internationally accepted quality standards for purity and freshness established by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), World Health Organization (WHO) and International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS).

Freshness, which ensures product integrity and efficacy, may be the single most important quality of fish oils. Oxidized oil (or rancid oil) is the cause of the fishy smell and taste that has given fish oil a bad reputation among many people. But oxidation also results in compounds (called peroxides) that are harmful to the body and have been linked to diseases.

High-end fish oil manufacturers have developed oxygen-free processing techniques to keep oxidation at an absolute minimum, which ensures superior freshness levels. You can protect yourself from oxidized fish oil by choosing fish oil products that are third-party tested for freshness, which is measured by TOTOX values. Remember: the lower the number, the fresher (less oxidized) the fish oil.

Concentration is crucial to getting results. Maroon says that the difference between high-quality and low-quality fish oil supplements often comes down to the amount of EPA and DHA they contain. Read the label carefully to determine how much omega-3s (EPA plus DHA) each serving contains. For general maintenance, with no specific health concerns, a daily dose would average about 500 mg of EPA plus DHA combined. If you have a specific health condition, the recommended dosage is typically considerably higher, and should be determined in consultation with your doctor or health practitioner. As Maroon notes, "Higher-quality fish oil supplements will cost more ... but you will be able to take fewer of these supplements in order to obtain adequate amounts of omega-3s." A less expensive bottle does not necessarily mean a good bargain.

There is only one way to have confidence in a product's purity, freshness, and concentration -- third-party testing. Any responsible fish oil manufacturer will commission an independent testing organization, which does not benefit financially from the test results, to test their fish oil for purity and freshness. These third-party results should be on the company website or available upon request.

Sometimes you will find test results on public websites like www.ifosprogram.com in the Consumer Report section. By comparing the test results for purity and freshness levels from different brands, you can differentiate lower quality from higher quality fish oil, thereby ensuring safety and efficacy. "Nordic Naturals is my preferred brand of fish oil because the purity, freshness, and concentration of their oil is unmatched. My patients have seen great results with their products," adds Maroon.

As a general rule of thumb, Maroon suggests purchasing from a well-established, reputable company with a proven track record that is respected by medical and health professionals. Look for environmentally sustainable fishing practices, a strong corporate/social responsibility profile, commitment to fish oil education and independent research and community involvement.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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