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The Sweet Pursuit

Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive


The Best (and Safest) Fish Oil Supplements

 by Julie Hanus


Tags: health and wellness, omega-3, fish oil, mental health, Colorado Springs Independent, Spirituality and Health,

Fish Oil Pills 2

At the beginning of June, I wrote a bit about omega-3s and our developing understanding of the complex role these essential fatty acids play in our bodies, especially with respect to brain chemistry. Since then I also spotted a nice piece in the Colorado Springs Independent on the subject, about a doctor who says omega-3 deficiency (that is, eating too little fish) could be the cause of rising rates of mental illness.

At any rate, I know the preponderance of stories in the media has made me extra-diligent about taking my fish oil capsules, which is why I wanted to point to an unnerving piece in the July-August issue of Spirituality & Health about health risks and the choosing the best fish oil supplements.

As Matt Sutherland writes:

If you’re unnerved by the idea that a typical package of hamburger might contain flesh from hundreds, if not thousands, of cows, you may be surprised to know the oil in your fish oil capsule may be derived from several different species, including sardines, herring, anchovies, tuna, cod, krill (a shrimp-like planktonic crustacean, and even farm-raised salmon. Furthermore, these fish, which get their omega-3 from eating microalgae, may come from shallow waters near heavily populated shores, where heavy metals, toxins, PCBs, and other pollutants concentrate….

Delightful. If you’re looking to reap the health benefits of fish oil, Sutherland advises doing your own research. “Terms like ‘ultra-refined,’ ‘high-potency,’ ‘pharmaceutical-grade,’ etc., are marketing hyperbole,” he writes. “The industry as a whole, has not agreed on definitions of purity or quality.”

Look for pills that have been tested for heavy metals other pollutants. A bottling date is also a plus, as is cold-press extraction. And definitely pay attention to what kind of fish a company is using to produce its pills.

Spectrum Organics, for example, uses “non-threatened salt water species of wild-caught, small, plankton-feeding fish (anchovies, mackerel and sardines) that are low on the food chain,” according to the company’s website. It made Sutherland’s list of recommended producers to check out, along with Nordic Naturals, Carlson, and Barlean’s, based on a survey of independent natural food stores.

Sources: Colorado Springs Independent, Spirituality & Health (article not yet online)

Spirituality & Health was our 2010 Utne Independent Press Award winner for best health/wellness coverage.