Fish oil is obtained from cold-water oily fish and is a natural source of omega-3 long-chain essential fatty acids. However, cold-water fish do not manufacture these acids as most people think, but accumulate them in their fatty tissue by consuming algae or smaller fish that do produce these acids. Unfortunately, environmental toxins are also stored in this manner, which makes frequent dining on certain predatory fish a risky proposition, particularly those fished in waters known to be contaminated. For this reason, the majority of fish oil processed as a dietary supplement is subjected to “stripping technology,” meaning that it undergoes molecular distillation and other purification procedures to remove toxins and pollutants before being packaged into capsules and softgels. The optimum amount of fish oil to take as a dietary supplement depends on why it is needed and the ratio of certain omega-3 acids to others.
The primary omega-3 acids found in fish oil that are considered to be beneficial to health are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Typically, a good quality supplement provides an average of 1,000 mg per enteric-coated capsule, with a ratio of 12 percent EPA and 28 percent DHA. However, there are supplements available that offer higher ratios of either EPA or DHA. In addition, a semi-synthetic ethyl ester is available, a concentrate that provides a total EPA and DHA concentration of up to 85 percent instead of the usual 30 percent. It should also be noted that fish oil production in Morocco, Chile, and Peru yields about 30 percent more omega-3 acids than other regions, while the waters off the southern coast of New Zealand are considered to be virtually pollutant-free.
Most manufacturers of fish oil supplements instruct the consumer to take one or two capsules daily, which usually provides 1,000-2,000 mg total. However, there is little official guidance as to how much of this substance should be taken each day, at least not in the U.S. For instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to render a recommended daily allowance of EPA and DHA. On the other hand, the American Heart Association encourages consumers to consume two four-ounce servings of fish per week, which would equate to approximately 3,000 mg of fish oil twice per week.
As previously indicated, dosage recommendations of fish oil may vary slightly if the goal is prevent or improve a specific condition. For example, it is generally recommended that those combating Raynaud's disease or Crohn's Disease take 2,000 mg twice per day for a total of 4,000 mg, while someone with lupus would benefit more from 2,000 mg taken three times per day, or a total of 6,000 mg. Most other conditions, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and high blood pressure, appear to respond well to a regimen of 1,000 mg taken three times per day.