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Factors Consumers Should Understand Before They Decide To Buy Fish Oil Supplements

Updated on May 28, 2012

It is tempting for consumers to buy fish oil immediately after finding out the many health benefits of this nutritional supplement. After all, consuming high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil can protect against heart disease, colon, prostate and breast cancer, and some neurological and autoimmune disorders. Not every fish oil supplement is created equal however. Consumers need to take some time to investigate their options and think about their individual needs before they make a decision.

Counter-indications

While fish oil can be a big help for many people, it's not right for everyone. This supplement's blood-thinning capabilities make it dangerous for people who have bleeding disorders like hemophilia, as well as for people who are already taking blood thinners or anti-coagulants like warfarin. Anyone who has ever had a hemorrhagic stroke or who will have surgery soon should also avoid fish oil, since the supplement can contribute to dangerous bleeding. Patients who don't have any existing bleeding disorders or who aren't taking these types of drugs can safely use fish oil without concern, however.

Omega-3 Levels

Many people choose fish oil as a way to supplement their omega-3 fatty acid intake. These fatty acids help protect against heart disease, reduce high blood pressure, help ADHD patients pay attention more easily and even reduce the effects of depression and schizophrenia in some people. Not every supplement contains the same levels of omega-3 fatty acids, however. Supplements may also be formulated to contain different amounts of different kinds of fatty acids.

The most desirable omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, better known as EPA and DHA. The percentage of these acids should be listed on the product packaging of any good quality fish oil supplement. Some supplements also contain alpha-linoleic acid, called ALA.

Vitamin A Levels

Fish oil is a good source of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that's essential to production of healthy skin and maintenance of good eyesight. Because of this, some patients may choose fish oil as a way to provide nutritional balance. For these patients, a fish oil supplement made primarily from the liver of oily fish is the best option. For people who are taking large amounts of fish oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, however, the extra vitamin A in these supplements can be dangerous. Since vitamin A is soluble in oil, it builds up in the body and can be toxic if too much is consumed.

Potential Contaminants

Oily fish often encounter toxins and contaminants in their natural environment. Some of the most dangerous are the organo-chlorines and mercury. These substances can build up inside the fish and may pass into the oil unless it's processed correctly. Consumers who are concerned about the danger of contaminated fish oil should choose molecularly distilled oil. This kind of fish oil may also be labeled as pharmaceutical grade.

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    • Sparrowlet profile image

      Katharine L Sparrow 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Good hub! Recently bought some krill oil capsules, I'll have to go look at the label!

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 5 years ago from Spain

      Hello Raj. I bought some omega3 fish oil tablets after reading your last hub on them, but will certainly now look more carefully at labels before buying more. Thanks for good advice. Take care.

    • Gottabegod profile image

      Tracia Bussey 5 years ago from Southern USA

      Good information! I've been using a fish oil supplement for nearly a year now. I make sure the label says 'mercury free' and lists the ingredients as being mackerel, sardines, anchovies, etc. I can tell it has helped my joint stiffness & my post menopausal dry eyes. I didn't know the information you laid out in your hub about it being potentially dangerous for people on blood thinners or who have bleeding disorders. I will be more careful to who I suggest use this supplement in the future. Voted up, useful & interesting!! God bless!

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