A Guide to Dollars and Cents Value and Distinctive Quality in Fish Oil Supplements

The great thing about fish oil is that we know that it works. Literally thousands of scientific studies explain how the omega-3 essential fatty acids in the best fish oil supplements fight inflammation causing atherosclerosis, arthritis, kidney disease, and many more common health conditions.

Fish Oil Supplements

Literally millions of people have taken fish oil supplements and obtained measurable, laboratory verified results that changed their health for the better.

The downside to using fish oil is that it works so well that hundreds of companies produce fish oil supplements. Choosing the highest quality fish oil supplement, or even the most economical fish oil supplement, requires more than just looking at the price on the bottle.

I know many of you want me just to cut to the chase and give you the dollars and cents data on the best fish oil products.

I'm posting a summary table just below this paragraph.

I've listed the most popular brands of fish oil with their most commonly offered prices per bottle in US dollars, along with the price per capsule and what you have to pay to get 1000 mg of bioavailable omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Different brands use different formulations of fish oil that are available to the body in different amounts. I've converted that data into dollars and cents.

ProductTypical Cost Per BottleTypical Cost Per 1000 mg Bioavailable Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Carlson Cod Liver Oil (500 ml)$20.00$0.25
Carlson Super Omega Capsules (130 capsules)$12.00$0.25
Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil$45.00$0.25
Lovaza$245.00$32.00
Nature Made 1200-mg Fish Oil Capules (375 per bottle)$20.00$0.35
New Vitality Triple Strength Fish Oil$34.95$0.83
Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Gummy Worms for Children$21.95$10.00
Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Soft Gels$49.95 (full retail price)$1.20
Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Soft Gels$25.00 (discount price)$0.60
Omega Rx$40.00 (monthly plan)$1.00
Omega Rx$50.00 (single bottle)$1.25
Spectrum Organics Omega-3 Fish OilVaries$1.20 to $2.50
Spring Valley (Twin Pack of 300 capsules)$12.00$0.56
V Pure Omega-3$21.95$3.00
Xtend Life Omega-3$18.95$1.10

The bioavailable fish oil in each product has been computed on the assumption that you take the product on an empty stomach. The exact cost may vary if you have to pay shipping charges or if you get the product on sale.

The cost you pay for a bottle of fish oil ranges from about $6 for 150 capsules of Spring Valley Fish Oil at Walmart to about $245 out of pocket for Lovaza.The price you pay for 1,000 mg of bioavailable omega-3 essential fatty acids ranges from about $0.20 for Carlson to about $32 for Lovaza.

Nordic Naturals, it turns out, costs about the same as the product you can buy at Walmart, when bioavailable essential fatty acids are taken into account.

Some brands are pricier, like Xend Life, but they offer additional value by providing up to four supplements in one capsule that contains a lot more than just fish oil.And some brands seem to be dirt cheap—which isn't to say they were made with dirty fish, although certificates of analysis are missing.

There really are differences in quality among products, but do you really want to pay 160 times more for the "pharmaceutical" product like Lovaza when over 17,000 scientific studies have found demonstrated benefits for other brands? Maybe you do.

Let's take a look at what makes a quality fish oil product and how the various retail options stack up. You probably can justify changes in the exact numbers I have computed for this report, but the relative values will stay the same.

What Makes a Fish Oil Worth Buying?

Let's consider what makes a fish oil product worth buying:

  • Purity. You don't want your fish oil to contain heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, or mercury. You don't want your fish oil to contain PCBs, dioxins, or furans. At least the first time you buy a brand, you want to know how the maker of the product ascertained that their fish oil meets the best international standards for purity.
  • Potency. You want the most DHA and EPA essential fatty acids you can get in every capsule. There are two reasons for this. One is that you don't want to have to take a handful of fish oil capsules two or three times a day just to get the dosage of DHA + EPA you need for health. The other is that the more essential fatty acids there are in each capsule, the less room there is for the "marine liquids" that in some brands can cause stomach upset and fishy breath.
  • Freshness. You want a product that has not been degraded by light, heat, or bacterial contamination. If there is antioxidant added to the fish oil, such as vitamin E, you want it working in your body, not breaking down to protect the fish oil from contamination.
  • Formulation. I'll explain in greater detail why the "triglyceride" form of fish oil is generally superior to the "ester" form of fish oil. I'll also explain why some ingredients added to fish oil make nutritional sense, and others are put in the product just to make it easier to protect a patent, that is, they are in the product for the company's lawyers, not for your well being.
  • Additional nutrients. Certain kinds of fish contain nutrients that other kinds of fish oil do not. Certain brands of fish oil contain added nutrients that other brands do not.
  • Conservation. Finally, I'll explain which brands of fish oil are derived from sustainable sources, and which likely are not.

What You Need to Know About Fish Oil Purity

We have all heard about the food chain. We humans, for instance, eat salmon. Salmon, in turn, feed on shrimp, krill, and smaller fish. The shrimp, krill, and smaller fish feed on plankton and marine algae, which form carbohydrates and essential fatty acids with the help of sunlight.

The trip up the food chain concentrates nutrients beneficial to human health. Salmon concentrate the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA as well as pigments such as astaxanthin they obtain from the crustaceans and smaller fish they eat.

Fish Oil Safety

The crustaceans and smaller fish concentrate DHA they obtain from plankton and microalgae.

The problem is that the same process that concentrates nutrients also concentrates ocean-borne contaminants such as heavy metals and toxic hydrocarbons from industry.

The kind of contamination that was released by the BP oil spill in 2010 is devastating for fish, but oil spills are not as great a threat to food safety as you might think. Weathered crude oil causes such tremendous defects in ocean fish at earlier stages of development that they don't live long enough to get caught.

The bigger problem is the potential for fish swimming in less-polluted waters to grow to maturity while concentrating a broader range of contaminants. Not all fish, however, accumulate all toxins. The lower a fish is on the food chain, the fewer toxins it will acquire during its lifetime.

Shark, for instance, is very high on the marine food chain, making it a relatively "dirty" fish.

There are bigger problems with farmed fish, however. Growing even "clean" fish in pens near the coastline, however, will cause the accumulation of toxins to increase 10- to 100-fold.

This table, adapted from a research study done at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Harvard University, shows the beneficial fatty acid content and the heavy metal and hydrocarbon contamination in the flesh of different kinds of fish that can be used to make fish oil.

Selenium is listed not because it is a contaminant but because it binds mercury. The more selenium, the less mercury can be absorbed from the fish. The abbreviation ppm stands for parts per million, the abbreviation ppb for parts per billion, and the abbreviation ppt for parts per trillion.

Fish speciesmg DHA + EPA per 100 g of fishMercury (ppb)Selenium (ppm)Dioxins (ppb)PCBs (ppt)
Anchovy2055 0.68 0.35
Herring20544700.57 0.97
Atlantic Mackerel12035200 0.87
King Mackerel401470 0.73
Farmed Salmon2648410 510.9
Wild Salmon1043460 30.03
Sardines982530 510.06
Albacore Tuna8626600.351000.23

PCB's in Fish

PCB's are a problem in almost all fish, but they are a bigger problem with farmed salmon. Mercury is a problem in almost all fish, although there is more mercury in tuna.

Unfortunately, the more omega-3 essential fatty acids there are in a fish, the more impurities accumulate, too. Purifying fish oil is essential, but the first consideration in finding a pure fish oil is making sure the company makes the oil from a relatively safe fish.

It is not impossible to make a pure fish oil product from farmed salmon or Albacore tuna, but it takes a lot more work. It is best to buy products that start with anchovy, wild salmon, sardines, or fish that are harvested from especially clean waters, such as hokey (used so seldom that the Harvard study did not even consider it).

Many companies don't want us to know how they remove impurities

The next consideration in finding a pure fish oil would be how the company removes impurities through a process called molecular distillation, but many companies don't want us to know how they do this step. Sometimes it is because the company doesn't purify their fish oil at all.

Sometimes it is because the impurities are removed by mixing the fish oil with hexanol—which itself can become an impurity—and allowing the hexanol to evaporate off with the dioxin or PCBs.

And some companies seem to use high-pressure carbon dioxide purification processes that they can't patent (or are using without a patent). They just don't want their competitors to know.

If your fish oil company can product a Certificate of Analysis, then it doesn't matter. You don't have to write off for these.

Certificate of Analysis confirms the product beats the most stringent standards in international trade.

I already have, and I'll mention them in the product reviews below. (The two companies with the most readily available certificates of analysis are Nordic Naturals and Xtend Life, but that isn't to say other brands aren't safe.)

The important thing is that the certificate of analysis confirms the product has been tested in an independent lab and meets or beats the the most stringent standards in international trade. Here are the standards for purity used in international trade. This table uses the same abbreviations as above.

ContaminantCouncil for Responsible NutritionEuropean PharmacopoeiaNorwegian Medicines Board
Arsenic (ppb)100100100
Cadmium (ppb)100100100
Lead (ppb)100100100
Mercury (ppb)100100100
Total PCBs (ppb)90
Dioxins (ppt)222

The Council for Responsible Nutrition has stricter standards than either the European Union or the Norwegian Medicines Board. They monitor for PCB contamination in addition to heavy metals.

If you compare the acceptable level of mercury in fish oil with the "average" amount of mercury in untreated fish, shown in the first table, you will notice that all the kinds of fish tested by the researchers at Harvard contain 5 to 10 times more mercury than international standards permit. In the modern world, fish oil has to be purified to be safe.

Do all companies purify their fish oil?

Do all companies purify their fish oil? Unfortunately, the answer is no. In California, a consumer watchdog group has filed suit against the makers of:

  • GNC Liquid Norwegian Cod Liver Oil,
  • Nature Made Cod Liver Oil,
  • Nature Made Odorless Fish Oil,
  • Now Foods Double Strength Cod Liver Oil,
  • Now Foods Salmon Oil,
  • Now Foods Shark Liver Oil,
  • Solgar 100% Pure Norwegian Shark Liver Oil Complex,
  • Solgar Norwegian Cod Liver Oil,
  • TwinLab Emulsified Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, and
  • TwinLab Norwegian Cod Liver Oil.

The suit filed by Democracy in Action alleges that some of these brands contain up to 70 times the PCBs and dioxin found in others. And the suit alleges that Now Foods Salmon Oil contains 70 times more PCBs than are found in salmon itself.

I don't know whether these allegations will be proved in court. For the time being, however, I would take a "time out" from these brands—especially those made from shark liver oil. And if you happen to live in a country where it's legal to sell seal oil and whale oil, I'd avoid them, too. Mammals concentrate heavy metals in their fat even more than fish.

Finding the Right Potency in Your Fish Oil

Another important way fish oils differ is by the amount of essential fatty acids in each 1,000 mg of fish oil, and by the number of 1,000 mg capsules you have to take to get the dosage of fatty acids you need each day.

If you are taking a brand that contains 400 mg of DHA + EPA per capsule, for instance, you will only need to take half as many capsules per day as you would need to take of a brand that contains 200 mg of DHA + EPA per capsule.

The real expense of your fish oil is not the cost per capsule, it's the cost per gram of DHA + EPA. When you do this calculation (and I'll do it for you in the product reviews below), then you know which brand is really a better buy.

More fatty acids in a capsule leaves less room for "marine liquids".

But there is one more reason to favor products that pack more fatty acids in each capsule. Making a product with more fatty acids leaves less room for "marine liquids." Another word for this component of fish oil might be "fish juice." It's the protein, omega-9 fat, and we're-not-sure-what-else that companies don't remove before they make their fish oil capsules.

The lower the concentration of marine liquids, the lower the chances of stomach upset, fishy burps, or fish breath. If your product contains about 300 mg DHA + EPA per capsule or more, the risk of these problems is almost nil.

Freshness Prevents Fishiness

Fish Oil Purity

A lot of Americans know what they know about the fishing industry by watching The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. This series follows five crab boats as they harvest seafood in the stormy waters of the Bering Sea west of Alaska through the winter.

The intrepid sailors face many dangers from the sea, but spoilage of their catch due to heat and humidity is not one of them.

Contrast this to the conditions in Ecuador and Peru where most of the fish are caught for making fish oil. Fish have to be gutted, cleaned, and chilled quickly to keep from going bad. They have to be transported from the boat to the plant without spoilage.

And the plant crews have to be ready to process the fish and to refrigerate the oil whenever the boat arrives to keep the oil from spoiling. To be sure, many brands of fish oil use cold-water fish caught south of New Zealand or west of Norway or Alaska.

With these brands there probably won't be a problem at the plant. You just need to be sure the capsules don't go bad while they are stored on the shelf.

This means they need to be stored at temperatures below 86° F/30° C and the product should be used within 2 years of manufacture. You are more likely to get fresher product when you buy online than when you buy at a retail store, because online vendors have higher volume of sales and faster turnover.

Finding the Right Formulation for Your Fish Oil

Omage-3 Natural SourceThere are three different ways manufacturers make fish oil formulas.

  • Natural triglyceride oils are fish oil in the form that they are "squeezed" out of the fish. They are the easiest for the body to absorb, but they do not concentrate essential fatty acids.
  • Fish oil esters are made by combining raw fish oil with alcohol. This step makes it easier to purify the fish oil and to concentrate essential fatty acids. However, more concentrated does not mean more available to the body.
  • Synthetic triglycerides are made by first converting fish oil into fish oil esters to remove impurities and concentrate fatty acids, and then converting them back into the triglyceride form so they can be more completely absorbed by the body.

Fish oil esters pack more fatty acids in each capsule, but your body absorbs less of the fatty acids from each capsule.

There is some disagreement in the literature, but it appears that the body absorbs about 20% of the fatty acids in fish oil esters, but about 70% of the fatty acids in the "natural," triglyceride fish oils.

Fat in food helps your body absorb essential fatty acids better.

Fat in food makes it easier for your body to absorb essential fatty acids. If you take fish oil esters with a high-fat meal, your body will absorb about 60% of the essential fatty acids in the capsule, and if you take "natural" fish oil with a high-fat meal, your body will absorb about 90% of the essential fatty acids in the product.

This fact makes some interesting comparisons. Consider the difference between the prescription-only fish oil Lovaza and the fish oil product made by Xtend Life.

  • A 1,000 mg capsule of Lovaza provides about 900 mg of essential fatty acids in the form of fish oil esters. A 1,000 mg of Xtend Life provides about 430 mg of essential fatty acids in their triglyceride form.
  • Your body will absorb about 180 mg of essential fatty acids from a 1000 mg capsule of Lovaza if you take it between meals or on an empty stomach. Your body will absorb about 300 mg of essential fatty acids from the 1,000-mg capsule of Xtend Life if you take it on an empty stomach.

A little of the natural, triglyceride form of fish oil can be just as beneficial as a lot of synthetic fish oil esters. But what if you take fish oil along with a high-fat meal?

First of all, your doctor doesn't want you mixing fish oil with cheeseburgers. If you are taking fish oil to control triglycerides or to support cardiovascular health, you aren't going to be on a high-fat diet.

However, if you do take fish oil when you eat a high-fat meal, the numbers change. You would absorb 540 mg of essential fatty acids from Lovaza, and 330 mg of essential acids from Xtend Life.

But you would pay ten times as much for the bottle of Lovaza (which is usually not covered by health insurance), which contains less than 1/3 as many capsules. Most product guides tell you the price per serving. I've also computed the price per 1000 mg of absorbable essential fatty acids. These numbers should be regarded as relative, rather than exact.

The contents of your stomach make a big difference in how much essential fatty acids your body absorbs. But triglyceride products are much more completely absorbed than fish oil esters.

Additional Nutrients in Your Fish Oil

VitaminsEssential fatty acids are not the only nutritional benefits that fish oils can provide. They are also excellent sources of certain fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants.

Fish liver oils are a great source of vitamin A and vitamin D. However, shark liver oil is also a source of heavy metal contamination.

Cod liver oil provides the vitamins without the heavy metals. Fermented cod liver oil is also a great source of vitamin K.

Salmon oil is a natural source of the antioxidant astaxanthin. Any fish oil can be fortified with fat-soluble antioxidants such as coenzyme Q10 and curcumin, although these have to be added by the manufacturer.

Environmentally Responsible Sources of Fish Oil

Another consideration in choosing your fish oil is whether catching the fish to make the product is endangering the species.

Sharks, for example, are under population pressures in all the oceans. Not only is shark liver oil a poor choice from the standpoint of potential heavy metal contamination, it also contributes to the endangerment of the species.

Certain other species, such as hokey and wild salmon from the Pacific Ocean, can be harvested sustainably. If you care about the oceans, you probably would prefer sustainably harvested fish. Now for individual product reviews.

Carlson Fish Oil

If you have ever had any dealings with the leadership of Carlson's Labs, and I have, it's hard not to like them. They answer questions quickly, carefully, and in depth. They provide people who aren't even their customers with useful, sometimes life-saving information by health experts like Dr. Sherry Rogers. And they have been making reliably high-quality vitamin products since 1965. The Carlson product line offers some excellent value.

  • If you buy Carlson cod liver oil in the 500 ml bottle, you will be paying just about $0.25 per 1000 mg of absorbed essential fatty acids ($0.20 per 5 ml serving), and you'll be getting vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K along with the omega-3's.
  • If you buy Carlson Super-Omega Fish Oil Capsules in the package that offers 130 capsules for about $12 retail, you'll also be paying about $0.25 per 1000 mg absorbed essential fatty acids ($0.07 per "serving").

Carlson's "chewables" for adults aren't that easy to chew. Children's chewables, however, usually go down with complaints. Carlson products are regularly tested under AOAC standards for heavy metals, dioxin, and PCBs. There are no AOAC standards for testing fatty acid contents.

There are criticisms of Carlson's in that they don't provide the Certificate of Analysis and they don't tell outside observers exactly how they know each capsule contains the specified amount of omega-3's. When I get more information on these issues, I'll add it to this article. However, on the basis of my personal experiences with the company, I have a high degree of confidence in their integrity.

Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil

When you think of cod liver oil, you probably don't think of Nebraska. Nebraska natives Dave and Barb Wetzel, however, founded the Green Pasture company to preserve the traditions of making butter oil, coconut oil, and cod liver oil for simple home healing.

The advantage of fermented cod liver oil is that it is a good source of vitamins A, D, E, and K.

The advantage of Green Pasture is that this boutique company takes great care in making its products, and it knows how to make cod liver oil taste....well, if not good, at least not bad.

Their cinnamon flavor may be exactly what you need if you don't care for lemon or cherry flavored cod liver oils. The Wetzels claim that their products meet or exceed the purity standards of California Prop 65, the European Pharmacopoeia, and the Norwegian Medical Standards Board and that they only use wild-caught, Arctic region cod for their fermented cod liver oil.

At $45 for 240 ml, Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil costs about $0.20 a spoonful and about $0.25 per 1000 mg of absorbed omega-3 essential fatty acids. But since you are also getting vitamins A, D, E, and K, it's a relative bargain.

Kirkland Fish Oil

Kirkland is the brand of fish oil sold by Costco. Since they don't disclose the DHA and EPA content or test results of their products, or least this information is not on the bottles I have examined, I cannot make an evaluation of this brand.

Nature Made Fish Oil

Nature Made Fish Oil products are made from wild-caught anchovies and sardines processed to the standards of the US Pharmacopoeia and the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED). Their fish oils are distilled, which is to say, they are heated, rather than filtered. The "burpless" products made by Nature Made are coated so that the capsule dissolves in the small intestine, rather than in the stomach.

As I mentioned earlier, however, the most reliable way to make fish oil "burpless" is to put more essential fatty acids in each capsule. That is where Nature Made fails to provide the quality of competing brands. Each 1000 mg capsule contains just 300 mg of DHA + EPA, of which 90 mg would actually be absorbed if you took it on an empty stomach. Each 1200 mg capsule contains just 500 mg of DHA + EPA, of which 150 mg would be absorbed if taken on an empty stomach. Nature Made sells both 375-count and 300-count bottles of 1200 mg soft gels. The 300-count bottle, oddly enough, usually costs more than the 375-count bottle. If you pay $20 for 375 soft gels in the 1200 mg size, you are spending about $0.35 for every 1000 mg of essential fatty acids your body can actually use.

Nordic Naturals

Pure Fish OilNordic Naturals is the company other nutritional supplement makers try to beat for quality and innovation. One of the really interesting product innovations developed at Nordic Naturals was adding flavorings to the capsules that contain fish oil.

These capsules can be made in different shapes and sizes to make children's chewables, making it a lot easier to give fish oil to children who have Crohn's disease, autism, bipolar disorder, or ADHD.

Lots of other companies tried to imitate them, without a lot of success. I know, because I spent one summer reading patents filed in Norwegian trying to come up with a tastier capsule myself. But flavor is hardly the only reason to buy Nordic Naturals. When major research institutions, such as Cedars-Sinai, Harvard, Duke, and Stanford tested fish oil, the brand they used in their scientific studies was Nordic Naturals.

Nordic Naturals removes oils from fish without chemicals and without excessive heat, removing potential contaminants and leaving nothing but pure fish for their products. Nordic Naturals is committed to providing fish oils in their natural, triglyceride form, the form the body recognizes as nutritious.

And, following a sustainable fisheries program, they use only wild fish caught with nets that do not trap other sea creatures, using the whole fish, and not returning any waste to the oceans. Nordic Naturals exceeds the purity standards of the European Pharmacopoeia and the Norwegian Medicinal Standard by a factor of about 15, and they also meet the stringent standards of California Proposition 65. But you will like their products because they taste good and they never make you burp.

  • Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega soft gels deliver 550 mg of DHA + EPA per capsule. Your body can absorb 350 to 495 mg of essential fatty acids from each capsule. If you pay full retail of $49.95 for a bottle of 120 capsules, you are paying about $1.20 per 1000 mg of omega-3's actually absorbed. If you pay a typical discounted rate of $25 for 120 capsules, you are paying about $0.60.
  • Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Gummy Worms for children are a cute product and a great way to get children to get their omega-3's. Each gummy worm contains about 68 mg of DHA + EPA, of which about 40 mg would be absorbed. At $21.95 for 60 gummy worms, each 1000 mg of absorbed omega-3's is about $10.00.

Nordic Naturals also has omega 3-6-9 blends that are excellent for people on low-fat diets. And they advertise a brand of salmon oil that contains 40 times less arsenic than other brands of salmon oil, claiming third-party testing of each and every batch to prove it. Nordic Naturals are pricey, but their quality is the very best.

Omega Rx Fish Oil

Omega Rx Fish Oil is the creation of Zone Diet doctor and fatty acids chemist Dr. Barry Sears. Dr. Sears describes his product as a "pharmaceutical grade" fish oil that is free of all the contaminants once associated with unrefined cod liver oil and other fish oil products.

There is no doubt that Omega Rx is a high-quality product. The purity of each batch is certified by a third-party lab, NutraSource Diagnostics, and the total omega-3 fatty acid content of 600 mg per 1000 mg capsule exceeds that of any other brand except New Vitality (which costs considerably less).

A bottle of 120 capsules will cost you about $50 before shipping charges, or $40 if you take regular monthly shipments. At $40 a bottle, you are spending about $1 for each 1000 mg of bioavailable fatty acids. Omega Rx is also available as a liquid for about $80 a bottle, before shipping charges. There are 48 servings of 5 ml (1 teaspoon) each per bottle, costing $1.75 each. Since Omega Rx does not provide other nutrients, it is a high-priced option for an excellent product.

Solgar Max-EPA Omega-3

Since Solgar is defending its fish oil products against a lawsuit alleging chemical contamination, I recommend waiting for a new products announcement before buying more products from this generally excellent company.

Spectrum Organics Omega-3 Fish Oil

Spectrum Organics is a company that provides organic coconut oil, mayonnaise, olive oil, and cooking sprays, as well as cod liver oil. It claims that it adheres to the standards for fish oil promoted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition. The problem with Spectrum Organics is that you have to take 4 capsules to get 390 mg of DHA + EPA, of which just 210 mg would be bioavailable. This means you would need to take 19 to 20 capsules a day to get 1,000 mg of essential fatty acids, at a cost of $1.20 to $2.50, depending on the size bottle you buy, exclusive of shipping costs.

Spring Valley Fish Oil

Spring Valley Fish Oil is sold at Walmart. As can be said about many other products sold at Walmart, you just can't beat the price per capsule. A twin-pack of 300 capsules may sell for as little as $12 at Walmart stores all over the United States. The problem is that each capsule only provides only 228 mg of essential fatty acids. (The serving size is 3 capsules.) Since the fish oil is esterified, you only get about 70 mg of essential acids per capsule. You need to take 14 capsules to absorb 1000 mg of omega-3's. This costs $0.56, making Spring Valley Fish Oil relatively expensive when you take bioavailable omega-3 content into consideration.

Triple Strength Fish Oil

Triple Strength Omega-3

Triple Strength Fish Oil is a product of the New Vitality Company, an innovative marketer of nutritional products located in Farmingdale, New York. Their formulator Gene Bruno is a leader in educating natural health professionals in the science and ethics of creating new nutritional supplements.

He's also an academic dean at the Huntington College of Health Sciences. The company takes pride in creating the highest quality natural products on the market. I have not found a copy of their certificate of analysis but I am acquainted with Mr. Bruno and some spokespeople for the company, and I have the impression that they adhere to the standards of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, which are stricter than those required by any government regulation.

There simply is no brand of fish oil that provides more omega-3's per capsule. Every capsule of New Vitality Triple Strength Fish oil provides 400 mg of EPA with 200 mg of DHA. Your body absorbs 360 mg per capsule, so you only need to take 3 capsules a day to get measurable omega-3 benefits.

The product is enteric coated, so it dissolves in your small intestine, not in your stomach. This prevents fishy burps. Each bottle of New Vitality Triple Strength Fish Oil contains 120 capsules and costs $34.95 plus shipping. That brings the cost to about $0.83 per 1000 mg of bioavailable essential fatty acids.

V Pure Omega-3

V Pure is not fish oil at all. The V in V Pure stands for "vegan," and the V Pure Product provides omega-3 essential fatty acids derived from microalgae. Unlike any other vegan omega-3 product, V Pure provides both DHA and EPA. Since this product is refined from plant sources that are grown in special tanks rather than harvested from the sea, contamination with heavy metals, PCBs, and dioxin is not a concern.

Why not just use V Pure instead of fish oil? One issue is that 60 capsules cost $21.95 (plus $7.50 for shipping). Each capsule contains 200 mg of DHA and 5 mg of EPA, so you would need to take eight capsules a day, costing about $3, to get 1,000 mg of bioavailable essential fatty acids. The other issue is that the EPA content of V Pure is very low. It may be useful for brain health, but it does not offer the 2:1 ratio of EPA to DHA typically used in studies of cardiovascular health. Of course, if you are a vegan, you don't eat fish or take fish oil!

Xtend Life

Pure Fish OilThe New Zealand Xtend Life fish oil is a unique combination of both natural, triglyceride fish oil and highly concentrated fish oil esters.

They cite a study at the Wellington School of Medicine in New Zealand that found that the combination of products relieves inflammation about 250% better than equivalent amounts of regular fish oil.

The Xtend Life product provides about 300 mg of DHA and 130 mg of EPA in each capsule, making a daily dose of about 4 capsules what you would need to get 1,000 mg of bioavailable essential fatty acids.

Their certificates of analysis are available online and they show that the company adheres to the highest international standards. That dosage costs about $1.10 a day for the Omega 3/DHA Fish Oil to about $1.50 a day for the Omega 3/QH Ultra (although you see a change in your health if you used just half as much, costing $0.55 to $0.75 a day). The reason to use Xtend Life is for its unique formulations.

The Omega 3/DHA formula, their least expensive fish oil product, provides as much DHA as you would get from microalgae for less than half the price. If you are taking omega-3's for depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, memory problems, or Alzheimer's, you need a product that has more DHA than EPA.

Excellent Omage-3 SourceThe Xtend Life Omega 3 Premium formula contains lycopene and astaxanthin. If you are going to take either of these supplements, it makes sense to take them with fish oil, which makes them 10 to 20 times more completely absorbed. Lycopene is important to prostate health in men, but it also rejuvenates dry skin. Astaxanthin likewise is skin-healthy. You are getting three supplements in one product.

The Omega-3 / QH Ultra formula offers essential fatty acids, lycopene, astaxanthin, and coenzyme Q10. The last ingredient, coenzyme Q10, also known as ubiquinone, is valuable to heart health. It helps the heart muscle operate under low-oxygen conditions. It doesn't prevent heart attacks, but it may enhance survival and minimize heart muscle loss if a heart attack occurs. If you have ever shopped for coenzyme Q10, you know it is pricey.

The Xtend Life Ultra product offers a good value for people who need all four supplements—and if you are a man over 55, you probabably do.

What about Lovaza, the medication that used to be known as Omacor?

Lovaza is a highly concentrated mixture of omega-3 fish oil esters. Because the omega-3 essential fatty acids are in ester form, they are very stable during storage and the results of taking Lovaza are very predictable. That is an extremely useful characteristic for doctors prescribing multiple-drug therapies.

Doctors want to know how you will react to a treatment. The amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids your body can absorb from a single capsule of Lovaza, however, is only about 30% of the total amount of the fatty acids in the capsule if you take the product on an empty stomach.

Since a 30-day supply of Lovaza usually runs about $245 for just 30 capsules, the effective cost of getting 1,000 mg of bioavailable omega-3 essential fatty acids per day is a staggering $32, hundreds of times the cost of many supplements that get good results.

If you don't have insurance and your doctor recommends Lovaza, be sure to discuss alternative treatments and how you and your doctor can evaluate their effectiveness. This is a lot of information, and I am happy to discuss any of it with you. Just remember that the numbers are intended to present relative values, not absolute values. Prices change, people do and don't have to pay shipping charges, and products sometimes go on sale. The relative values of the brands listed, however, should be reliable.

Selected Sources:

  • Mozaffarian D, Rimm EB. Fish intake, contaminants, and human health: evaluating the risks and the benefits. JAMA. 2006 Oct 18;296(15):1885-99. Review. Erratum in: JAMA. 2007 Feb 14;297(6):590.
  • Schecter A, Colacino J, Haffner D, Patel K, Opel M, Papke O, Birnbaum L. Perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, and organochlorine pesticide contamination in composite food samples from Dallas, Texas, USA. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Jun;118(6):796-802. Epub 2010 Feb 10.

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