The Richmond Register

September 17, 2013

Fish oil vs. fish oil supplements: Which is better?

By Dr. Jack Rutherford
Special to the Register

RICHMOND — Are fish oil supplements just as good as eating fish?

Probably not, especially if the supplements are in the “ethyl ester” form.

A recent study examined how at the molecular level, omega-3 fat and DHA lower blood pressure. The scientists looked at both the natural food “triglyceride” form and the ethyl ester supplement form.

They found that the natural form of DHA lowered blood pressure by triggering relaxation in the muscles of the artery walls. To their surprise, however, the supplement ethyl ester form of DHA had no beneficial effect on lowering blood pressure and even worse, actually interfered with the natural DHA’s beneficial effects.

Unfortunately, most fish oil supplements are in the ethyl ester form. Be sure to look carefully at the fine print on the label to determine whether the fish oil supplement is in the natural “triglyceride” form or the “ethyl ester” form.

One brand in the natural form is Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega.

In my view, however, the best choice is to get your vital omega-3 fats from oily fish like wild salmon and to only use fish oil supplements if you cannot or do not eat fish.

The omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish oil are not made by the body and must be consumed in the diet. The fatty acids work to lower the body’s production of triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Consumption of fatty fish or fish oil supplements may have other health benefits as well including reduced joint inflammation and a reduced risk of age-related mental issues.

If you’ve shopped for fish oil supplements, you may have seen a product called “krill oil” on store shelves.

Whereas most fish oil supplements are made from fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, and anchovies, krill oil is made from krill — tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans found in the sea.

Some studies have found that krill oil supplements may do a better job of getting the working fatty acids, EPA and DHA, into the cells.

Krill oil also contains more EPA than fish oil and has other beneficial substances, including phospholipids that help brain cell function, and antioxidants that fight off free radicals in the body.

Krill oil supplements have still other benefits for menstruating women. A 2003 study published in the journal “Alternative Medicine Review” found that krill oil supplements were effective in reducing menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome symptoms.

One word of caution if you take or are planning to take krill oil or any form of fish oil supplement. If you are on prescription medication, let your doctor know about the fish oil supplements as these may interact with certain drugs such as blood thinners.