Omega-3 fatty acids provide a range of health benefits, such as improving eye and brain health, reducing the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, and helping to fight depression.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids; EPA, DHA, and ALA. The first two are typically derived from fish oil sourced from mackerel, herring, tuna, and salmon. DHA can also be derived from algae.
But with so many products on the market, how do you find the best omega 3 supplement?
Most fish oil supplements list how much EPA and DHA you get per serving. But the concentration can vary depending on which fish the oil was derived from. Flaxseed Oil supplements are also available which are high in the third omega-3; alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA).
So how do you know which combination is right for you? Should you take a supplement with EPA and DHA, or one rich in ALA?
By the end of this guide you’ll know which combination is right for you. From a shortlist of the best brands, through to recommended intake levels, health benefits, and how to find the lowest price.
We also analyzed the ingredients from more than 50 omega-3 supplements, then created a top 10 list of the best on the market. This includes products that are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that have been promoted for a variety of heart, brain and other health benefits. They’re necessary for human health, but the body can’t produce them naturally. This means they’re considered essential fatty acids.
Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids carry a range of scientifically proven health benefits, from reducing inflammation and joint pain, to fighting depression and ADHD in children.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting most your omega-3 intake from eating fish, such as mackerel and salmon, at least 2 times per week. This should be roughly equivalent to 250 mg of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
However, omega-3 supplements have proven a more efficient and cost effective way to control your daily intake.
Should I supplement with omega-3s?
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are an excellent choice if you’re looking to limit the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower triglyceride levels, or reduce joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency was ranked at number 6 on the top 10 causes of death in America in 2005, accounting for roughly 82,000 deaths. However, high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol featured even higher (positions 2 and 6 respectively). Some studies have found omega-3’s are beneficial for lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Although omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our health, our bodies cannot produce them naturally. This means we must get them from our diet or supplementation.
Best natural sources of omega 3
Omega-3 supplements containing EPA and DHA often list fish oil as an ingredient. The concentration of omega-3 varies based on the type of fish used, which is why you’ll often see the same amount of fish oil, but variation in the amount of fatty acids.
So, if you’re looking to increase your intake omega-3 from natural foods, it makes sense to consume the same fish that are in supplements.
The following foods are high in the EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. We recommend including these foods in your diet two to three times per week.
Fish with a high concentration of omega-3:
- Lake trout
The third fatty acid is ALA. This is often the only option for vegetarians and vegans, as it’s derived from oils and nuts instead of fish oil.
Good natural sources of ALA are:
- Flaxseed oil
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
Types of Omega-3 fatty acids
There are 3 main types of omega-3 fatty acid:
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Typically found in fish, fortified foods (some brands of eggs and orange juice), fish oil supplements, prescription fish oil
- Helps lessen inflammation in the body
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Found in fish, fortified foods (such as some brands of eggs and orange juice), fish oil supplements, prescription fish oil, algae supplements
- Essential for brain health and function
Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)
- Found in walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, vegetable oils; canola oil, soybean oil, flaxseed oil
- The body converts ALA into EPA and DHA, but only in small amounts
- Plant form of omega-3
- ALA needs to be converted to EPA or DHA to become useful, but this is limited in humans
EPA and DHA are typically derived from fish, although DHA has also been derived from algae for vegetarian supplements.
ALA is another option for vegetarians, which is often recommended for the way it converts to EPA and DHA in the body. However, this happens at a low ratio, meaning you must ingest large quantities of ALA to get the same dose of EPA or DHA as fish oil supplements provide.
16 health benefits of omega 3 fish oil
It’s no secret that omega-3 fatty acids have a range of health benefits, but it’s sometimes difficult to separate the facts from marketing hype.
Fortunately, omega-3s are often the subject of scientific study, meaning there’s no shortage of research papers and reference libraries to call upon.
To help cut through the noise, we’ve put together a carefully curated list of the top 10 health benefits of omega-3’s. These are the proven medical benefits associated with all three types of omega-3 fats: DHA, EPA, and ALA.
- Fasting and non-fasting triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease. Cholesterol charity Heart UK reports that statins can make small reductions in triglyceride levels, in addition to fibrates (Bezafirbdate, Ciprofibrate). They also recommend concentrated fish oils, specifically prescription Omacor and Maxepa (170 mg EPA and 115 mg DHA per capsule).It’s important to point out that pharmaceutical control of blood triglycerides is only effective with EPA and DHA, not ALA. This is highlighted with the Lovaza™ capsules from GlaxoSmithKline, which contain 465 mg of EPA and 375 mg of DHA. Patients with hypertriglyceridemia are often prescribed Lovaza™ at a dose of 4g/day, which hasn’t shown any adverse impact on body weight.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are considered an effective therapy for neck and back pain, but have also been associated with side effects such as gastric ulcers and myocardial infarction.This is why one study compared them to Omega-3 EFAs found in fish oil, to find an effective alternative with less side effects.
Between March and June 2004, a 1200 mg daily dose of omega-3 EFAs (EPA and DHA) was given to 250 patients who had been diagnosed with nonsurgical neck or back pain. After 1 month of treatment, patients were given a questionnaire to assess whether their pain had improved.
After an average of 75 days on fish oil, 60% stated that their joint pain had improved, with 88% saying they would continue to take the fish oil. No side effects were reported.
Omega-3 fatty acid intake has also been found to improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. One study by Goldberg and Katz in 2007 found that supplementation with EPA and DHA was an effective adjunctive treatment for arthritic pain and joint stiffness.
After supplementation with omega-3 PUFAs for 3-4 months, joint pain intensity, minutes of morning stiffness, number of painful joints, and NSAID consumption were all reduced.
- Several studies have found omega-3 fatty acids to be inversely associated with chronic depressive symptoms. Although this doesn’t mean it’s a cure, symptoms do appear to be relieved by EPA and DHA.One study assessed the diet of 3317 men and women in 1992-1993, which found that people with the highest intakes of EPA and DHA were associated with a lower risk of depressive symptoms. These were defined by the Center for Epidermiological Studies Depression Scale score.
A similar study was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. This took psychological and dietary data from 453 men and 400 women, then assessed depression using the Zung’s Self-Rating Depression Scale (ZDRS).
The results found that increased polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) and monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) were associated with lower scores in the depression scale used.
- A study published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology examined 264 patients with dry eye, to evaluate the benefits of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids.The study contained two groups; 264 people taking 500 mg twice per day (325 mg EPA and 175 mg DHA), while the 254 people in group 2 took a placebo. Results were measured over the course of 3 months.
At the end of the trial, 65% of patients in the omega-3 group reported a significant improvement in symptoms, compared to 33% of the placebo group.
A separate meta-analysis of 790 participants in 7 independent studies was analyzed with similar results. This also concluded that omega-3 fatty acids were an effective therapy for dry eye syndrome.
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and preterm and term infants, is well tolerated, but can it boost neurodevelopment?In 2014, Maria Makrides et al. published a four-year follow-up of children born to women in a trial of prenatal DHA supplementation. As part of this study, pregnant women supplemented with 800 mg/d of DHA.
When the children reached 4 years of age, their General Conceptual Ability (GCA) score was measured. Of the 703 children measured, GCA scores showed very little difference between placebo and those where the mother supplemented with DHA.
The study concluded that the data did not support prenatal DHA supplementation to enhance early childhood development.
- An extensive study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that taking certain omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy can reduce the risk of childhood asthma by 31%.Researchers provided 736 pregnant women with a daily dose of 2.4 g of fish oil or placebo, at 24 weeks’ gestation and one week after delivery. The health of 695 participating children was then monitored for a period of 5 years.
The risk of persistent wheeze or asthma in the omega-3 group was 16.9%, versus 23.7% for placebo. This was accompanied by a reduced risk of infections in the lower respiratory tract, at 31.7% vs. 39.1%).
A few other studies have pushed for more research into the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on children.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder characterized by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. It’s the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder in children.Although it shouldn’t be used as the primary treatment, research suggests omega-3 fatty acids can reduce symptoms of ADHD. This has been observed in several clinical trials.
One study, published in the Pediatrics & Child Health journal, compared the effects of omega-3 supplementation against a placebo. The study ran for 16 weeks and included 26 French Canadian primary school children diagnosed with ADHD.
At the end of the 16 weeks, researchers noticed a statistically significant improvement in symptoms, based on the parent version of the Conner’s questionnaire.
- There are early indications that omega-3 supplementation can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).One study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, performed a meta-analysis of long-term omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on animal models. In this case researchers considered ‘long-term’ to be at least 10% of the average total lifespan.
The authors of the study found that omega-3 supplementation improved cognitive function and diminished the amount of neuronal loss. The most significant improvements were observed in female animals.
Two further studies were reported at the 2009 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease (AAICAD).
The first study concluded that more large scale research was needed, but results from the second study looked promising. This was where older adults with normal age-related cognitive decline supplemented with 900 mg of DHA per day.
Unfortunately, these studies carried some bias, as they were conducted by Martek Biosciences – the manufacturer of the Algal-900 DHA dietary supplement taken by the participants.
In fact, this second study (known as the MIDAS study) was discredited by the Federal Trade Commission. Not only that, but CVS was sued because the packaging carried a claim that it was “the only DHA form & dosage clinically shown to improve memory”.
A separate study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the relationship between intake of fish and fish products and cognitive performance.
The study was performed in Western Norway, where 2,031 subjects, aged 70-74, participated in a range of cognitive tests, such as the Controlled Oral Word Association and Kendrick Object Learning.
The results showed subjects whose daily intake of fish and fish products was more than 10 g per day had significantly better test scores. The maximum effect was observed at a dose of 75 g per day, sourced from unprocessed lean fish and fatty fish.
Further research published in the same journal in 2007 investigated the effects of omega-3 supplementation on 210 participants in the Zutphen Elderly Study. Aged 70-89, the intake of EPA and DHA was calculated for each person individually.
After 5 years, the results showed significantly less cognitive decline compared to placebo. They concluded that an average of 380 mg/d of EPA + DHA may postpone cognitive decline in elderly men, but that more research was needed before drawing definite conclusions.
Andrew P. DeFilippis, director of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at UofL Physicians Outpatient Center, Kentucky, recognizes the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular disease.He recommends one serving (200-400 g) of fatty fish or a fish oil supplement containing 900 mg of EPA + DHA every day, and a diet rich in ALA for patients with known cardiovascular disease or congestive heart failure.
A separate review published in The Canadian Journal of Cardiology studied the cardiovascular effects of flaxseed and ALA. Researchers concluded that:
“the body of ALA research now argues persuasively for the initiation of careful, randomized, controlled trials of dietary flaxseed and/or ALA in a patient population with symptoms of atherosclerotic heart disease.”
- A study published in the Surgical Neurology International journal trialed using omega-3 fatty acids as an anti-inflammatory, in place of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).Between March and June of 2004, 250 patients supplemented with 1200 mg per day of omega-3 EFAs (EPA and DHA). These were patients who were found to have nonsurgical neck or back pain.
After 1 month, 125 of the patients returned a questionnaire, which showed that eighty percent were satisfied with their improvement. Sixty percent also said their joint pain had improved, with no reported side effects.
A paper published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology agreed that there’s substantial evidence to show EPA and DHA fatty acids can limit inflammation. This includes production of inflammatory cytokines and leukocyte chemotaxis.
- Omega-3’s are often reported as an effective treatment for autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn’s and rheumatoid arthritis. But is this really the case?Existing scientific evidence is conflicting, and more large-scale tests are needed, but the evidence for Crohn’s doesn’t look promising.
A randomized controlled trial of 204 patients with Crohn’s disease in Germany confirmed omega-3 fatty acids couldn’t prolong remission. A similar study was carried out in Europe and North America, with 738 patients, which also confirmed omega-3’s had no role in the maintenance of Crohn’s disease. This was at a dose of 4g/day.
However, there have been several cases where high-dose fish oil has been used effectively for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
A study published in the Arthritis and Rheumatism journal noted significant improvements in patients taking 130 mg/kg/day of omega-3 fatty acids. This included a reduction in the number of tender joints, duration of morning stiffness, physician’s evaluation of pain, and physician’s evaluation of arthritis activity.
- Recent studies indicate omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the likelihood of some forms of cancer, specifically the BCA1 form of breast cancer.
- A meta-analysis of 577 cases of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in ten randomized controlled trials (RCTs) was published in the Gastroenterology Research and Practice journal in 2016.The median duration of treatment with omega-3 fatty acids was 12 months, while the median dose was 2.85 g per day, with no adverse side effects.
Results of this meta-analysis support the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids for optimizing liver fat, liver enzyme levels, and blood lipid levels in patients with NAFLD.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality and morbidity. One of the causes is thought to be linked to inflammation, which can be reduced with omega-3 supplementation.
- A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine examined the link between omega-3 fatty acids and the prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC).Based on the evidence available, researchers concluded that an omega-3 enhanced sun protection factor (SPF) could reduce incidence of NMSC by as much as 30%.
However, no evidence was provided to prove dietary omega-3 reduces the risk of NMSC.
1. Regulates cholesterol triglyceride levels
2. Curb stiffness and joint pain (Rheumatoid arthritis, Osteoporosis)
3. Reduce levels of depression and anxiety
4. Improve eye health
5. Improve visual and neurological development of babies
6. Reduced risk of asthma in children
7. Reduce symptoms of ADHD
8. Slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
9. Improve risk factors for heart disease
10. Reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome
11. Fight inflammation
12. Fight autoimmune disease
13. May help prevent some cancers
14. Reduce fat in the liver
15. Improve sleep
16. Good for your skin
Potential side effects of Omega-3 supplements
Side effects of non-prescription omega-3s
- Non-prescription omega-3 supplements don’t face the same FDA regulation as the prescription versions, so the amount of omega-3 may be higher or lower than stated on the label.
- Supplements may not be pure omega-3s, and may contain other ingredients
- Known mild side effects that may be caused by omega-3 supplements are; fishy burps or taste in the mouth, upset stomach
Side effects of prescription omega-3s
- Side effects of Epanova – Diarrhea, Nausea, Stomach pain
- Side effects of Lovaza – Burping, unpleasant taste in mouth, upset stomach
- Side effects of Vascepa – joint pain
- High doses of omega-3 fatty acid supplements may affect the blood’s ability to clot. Take care if taking blood-thinning medications
How to choose a good omega 3 supplement
Choosing an Omega-3 supplement isn’t as simple as choosing something like glutamine or creatine. Because the EPA and DHA are often derived from fish, you might also want to consider whether the fish were caught sustainably, and think more about the manufacturing process.
Whenever we review a new Omega-3 product, there are 5 key stages to our research:
- 1. EPA and DHA content: This is more important to us than the quantity of fish oil or krill oil. You can have a supplement with a high quantity of fish oil, but low omega-3 fatty acids, simply due to the type of fish the oil was sourced from (mackerel has a higher concentration than anchovies, for example).
- 2. Cost per serving: Because of how many Omega-3 supplements we review, we’re able to establish an industry average for the price of each serving. This means we can quickly filter out the overpriced brands and identify the best deals.
- 3. Brand reputation: We always like to find out as much about the company as possible. This can include research on the other products they sell, how long they’ve been in business, and where their manufacturing is based.
- 4. Purity and authenticity: There are numerous standards now available, for both manufacturing practices and label accuracy. cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practice), NSF Certified, GMO-Free, and ‘Sustainably Harvested’ are just a few of the labels to look out for when buying Omega-3 supplements.
- 5. Sustainability: The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certifies a small selection of fish oil as sustainable, including pharmaceutical-grade CodMarine®. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has also released surveys in the past, which determine the best and worst brands when it comes to removing environmental contaminants from their fish oils.
We’ll also take customer feedback into account, particularly if the product is already a best seller with thousands of reviews.
- Nordic Naturals: Arguably the biggest name in Omega-3 supplements. Current product line includes: Complete Omega, ProOmega, Postnatal Omega-3, Ultimate Omega-D3 Sport, Ultimate Omega + CoQ10, and the standard Nordic Naturals Omega-3. They also source all their fish oil from waters certified as sustainable by Friends of the Sea (FOS).
- Viva Naturals: We’re yet to come across a more highly rated supplement company. From Omega-3 to Organic Ground Flaxseed, Viva Naturals has a long line of best sellers, with near-perfect review scores from thousands of customers on Amazon. Their Omega-3 also has one of the highest quantities of EPA and DHA (1,880 mg), alongside NutriGold Omega-3 Gold (2,000 mg).
Dr. Tobias: Another supplement company with exceptional customer feedback.
Dr. Tobias have managed to find the perfect balance between high-potency ingredients and great value for money. Their supplements range from a bestselling Omega-3 Fish Oil supplement, to their Deep Immune Probiotics capsules.
Top 10 best omega 3 fish oil supplements
Before buying any new supplement, you want to make sure you’re getting good value for money. You also want to find the perfect combination of Omega-3 fatty acids in a high enough dose to provide the full range of health benefits.
But with hundreds of Omega-3 and fish oil supplements available, who has time to do the research?
We lead increasingly busy lives, which is why we’ve done the legwork for you. This meant analyzing the ingredients from 65 of the best Omega-3 supplements on the market, including levels of EPA and DHA, total fatty acids, and cost per serving.
The result was a shortlist of the top 10 Omega-3 supplements, based on value for money and EPA/DHA content.
1. BioScience Nutrition Omega 3 Fish Oil
- 2,250 mg Omega-3 fatty acids per serving
- 1,200 mg EPA + 900 mg DHA
- 150 mg other omega-3 fatty acids
- Heavy metal tested for purity and potency
- Natural lemon flavor
- GMP certified
- Made in the USA
2. Viva Naturals Omega 3 Fish Oil
- 2,000 mg Omega-3 fatty acids (as TG) per serving
- 1,400 mg EPA + 480 mg DHA
- 120 mg other omega-3 fatty acids
- Features highly absorbable triglyceride omega-3’s
- Sourced sustainably from small ocean fish for purity
- Independently tested and IFOS 5-Star certified
3. Dr. Tobias Omega 3 Fish Oil
- 2,000 mg Fish oil per serving
- 800 mg EPA + 600 mg DHA
- Ultra-pure, refined fish oil – purified with Molecular Distillation
- Enteric coating to help prevent fishy aftertaste
- Triple Strength, from wild fish, not farm-raised
- Non-GMO and NSF certified
- Made in the USA
4. Brain Power Plus Omega 3 Fish Oil
- 1,500 mg Omega-3 fatty acids
- 800 mg EPA + 600 mg DHA
- 100 mg other omega-3 fatty acids
- Manufactured following the highest GMP standards
- 100% wild anchovy derived and sustainably harvested
- Deodorized to eliminate fishy aftertaste
- Molecularly distilled to remove heavy metals and contaminants
- Made in the USA
5. Nordic Naturals ProOmega
- 1,280 mg Omega-3 fatty acids
- 650 mg EPA + 450 mg DHA
- 180 mg other omega-3 fatty acids
- Helps support a healthy heart, immune function, and eye health
- Triglyceride form for better absorption
- Non-GMO verified
6. BodyVega Omega 3 Fish Oil
- 1,500 mg Omega-3 fatty acids
- 800 mg EPA + 600 mg DHA
- 100 mg other omega-3 fatty acids
- Free of toxins and metals, with no artificial colors
- Triple strength, lemon flavored softgels
- GMO and gluten free
- Made in the USA
7. NutriGold Omega-3 Gold Triple Strength Fish Oil
- 2,100 mg Omega-3 fatty acids
- 1,450 mg EPA + 550 mg DHA
- 100 mg other omega-3 fatty acids
- High absorption TG form of Omega-3’s
- Sustainable wild Alaskan fish oil
- IFOS 5-Star certified
- Certified sustainable by the MSC
- Soy-free and non-GMO
- Made in the USA
8. NOW Foods Ultra Omega 3
- 750 mg Omega-3 fatty acids
- 500 mg EPA + 250 mg DHA
- Molecularly distilled, enteric coated softgels
- Supports a healthy brain and heart
- Fish oil is a product of Peru and Chile
- 100% of fish oil is sourced from anchovies
- Produced in a GMP facility
9. Kirkland Signature Fish Oil 1,000 mg
- 250 mg Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA + DHA)
- 50 mg other omega-3’s
- Sourced from deep ocean waters, not farm-raised fish
- Purified to remove metals and toxins
- USP verified
- Fish oil derived from anchovies and sardines
- No artificial colors or flavors
10. Deva Vegan Omega-3 DHA
- 200 mg DHA per serving
- Derived from algae and packaged in non-animal softgels
- 100% Vegan, certified by the Vegan Society
- Microalgae grown in a closed-culture USA manufacturing facility
- 90 vegan softgels per bottle
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