This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
People always ask me what is No. 1 on my list of “must-take” dietary supplements. Without a doubt, it’s fish oil. Your body doesn’t produce the life-sustaining omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, and you can’t safely get therapeutic amounts from eating fish alone. However, my answer comes with a few strings attached.
Fish oil is only beneficial if it meets specific standards for purity and potency. In recent lab tests, Consumer Reports found that 1 in 3 fish oil supplements fell short. But if you think it’s only the expensive ones that pass the test, think again. High-quality fish oil doesn’t have to cost a lot — you just need to know what to look for.
If you don’t currently take a fish oil supplement, you should start taking one right away. And if you’re currently taking one, I want you to think carefully about whether or not it’s the right one for you.
Either way, I’ll tell you how to tell a good fish oil supplement from a bad one.
Health Benefits of Fish Oil
According to many experts, nearly all Americans are critically deficient in omega-3s, which makes us vulnerable to a host of health problems, including chronic inflammation, heart trouble, cognitive decline and even premature skin aging and wrinkles.
Every cell in your body requires sufficient omega-3s to function properly. So when you replenish your omega-3 levels by taking fish oil, you begin to notice amazing improvements. People consistently report benefits such as better mood and memory, reduced joint pain, more youthful skin, stronger nails, improved vision, fewer colds and better cholesterol ratios.
Here’s a short list of some of the more remarkable benefits of fish oil that thousands of research studies from around the world have revealed:
- Fights inflammation
- Boosts cognitive function
- Strengthens and protects the heart
- Supports optimal cholesterol ratios
- Promotes youthful skin and shiny hair
- Supports healthy vision
- Improves mood balance
- Promotes weight loss
Special Interests Keep Government From Backing Fish Oil
For years, health advocates have been pushing the government to throw its weight behind fish oil. The consensus is that if the government established an RDA for omega-3s, like it does for vitamin D and calcium, more people would be compelled to take fish oil.
In fact, many experts believe that if more people took fish oil supplements, there would be less need for painkillers, heart medications and antidepressants, as well as an overall decline in rates of chronic disease and early death.
But the pharmaceutical industry lobbied hard and spent tons of money in an effort to prevent this from happening.
The Dangers of Low-Quality Fish Oil
There’s no question that the omega-3s found in fish oil are extremely beneficial to virtually every aspect of health. And unlike options that your doctor may recommend, omega-3s have no harmful side effects.
However, where your omega-3s come from is extremely important. Experts estimate that upwards of 20 trillion gallons of toxic pollutants find their way into our waterways each year. Unfortunately, the fish swimming in today’s oceans are contaminated with the very same chemical toxins that fill the water, and research has shown that these toxins can become concentrated at very high levels in fish body oils. 
Here are some of the dangerous toxins found in fish and low-quality fish oil:
Mercury, lead, cadmium and other heavy metals: Byproducts of industry linked to heart damage, cognitive problems and cancer. 
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls): A banned chemical known to cause cancer, skin disorders, liver disorders, reproductive problems and birth defects.
DDT: An extremely toxic type of dioxin that the EPA has linked to cancer and birth defects.
Pharmaceutical drug residues: Recent EPA study found residues of drugs used to treat high cholesterol, diabetes, depression and more in fish in the United States.
How to Choose the Right Fish Oil Supplement
1. Molecularly Distilled
So how can you be sure that you are safely benefiting from fish oil without having to worry about slowly poisoning your body with pollution? An advanced process called molecular distillation is currently the only known method for eliminating 100 percent of toxins and contaminants in fish oil. Yet, most products do not undergo this critical step. So when it comes to purity, my test is simple: If it does not have “molecularly distilled” on the bottle, do not buy it. Period.
2. Made in the USA
Another quick tip is to look for a product made in the USA. I’m still a big believer in American-made quality, and I simply don’t trust overseas facilities.
3. Wild, Cold-Water Fish
You hear a lot of opinions about what type of fish makes the best fish oil supplements. Let me put this argument to rest. The answer is wild, cold-water fish. In terms of omega-3 content, overall purity and environmental sustainability, this is the clear winner.
Many fish oil supplements (even the expensive ones) are made from farmed fish, which are typically fed an unnatural diet of genetically modified corn and soy and treated with chemicals. So you get lower levels of omega-3s and a lot of extra processing. So make sure the bottle states that the source of the fish is wild, cold-water fish. If not, do not buy it.
4. Avoid Prescription Fish Oil
Lastly, doctors have lately been prescribing prescription fish oil. They’ve been duped by the pharmaceutical companies into thinking that it’s superior to fish oil supplements. But don’t fall for the same trick that they did. Prescription fish oil is not even pure fish oil, but rather a highly processed alternative with questionable effectiveness and unknown side effects.
5. Dark Softgel With Added Antioxidants
You’ve probably heard about the dangers of consuming oxidized fats, trans-fats and hydrogenated oils. Well, guess what? If the fish oil you take is not made with special measures, you are most certainly consuming these harmful fats in every pill.
Omega-3s have a unique molecular structure that makes them prone to oxidation, which transforms them from health-promoting fats to rancid trans-fats when they are exposed to light and heat. Most manufacturers ignore this simple scientific fact in the interest of rapid, inexpensive mass production.
There are several measures that manufacturers can take to avoid creating rancid fish oil. The most important of which is the use of molecular distillation, which purifies the oil without the use of heat. It’s also important that the softgel itself be a dark color to limit light exposure. Way too many fish oil supplements are made with clear softgels.
Lastly, the best fish oil supplements include antioxidants like vitamin E, specifically tocotrienols, or CoQ10 to help prevent oxidation.
Fish Oil Alone Is Not Enough
A lot of companies like to wow you with the amount of fish oil in their products. But it’s really all about the omega-3s, specifically EPA and DHA. I don’t care if it contains 5,000 mg of fish oil. If a daily dose doesn’t provide you with at least 800 mg of EPA and DHA combined, it’s time to find a new fish oil supplement.
Also, one of the great things about fish oil is that it can be combined with synergistic ingredients to boost its effectiveness. Unfortunately, few companies actually add these to their products. My favorite ones are CoQ10, vitamin E and vitamin D, since these powerful antioxidants serve as natural preservatives while at the same time promoting optimal heart function and brainpower.
Like I said earlier, fish oil doesn’t need to be expensive to be high quality. You just need to know what to look for. Shop around and do your research. If you are looking for a high-quality fish oil supplement with those added antioxidants I mentioned, you can click here.
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