Fish oil has slowly risen in popularity to become one of the most widely consumed supplements on the market today.
It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and provides an array of benefits that have been confirmed time and again through rigorous clinical studies.
The research team at cpoe.org put scores of today’s most popular brands to the test and determined that the following represent the best fish oil supplements of 2021.
1. Omegawell by LiveWell Labs
Omegawell by LiveWell Labs provides a combination of EPA and DHA that is unmatched for potency and purity. If you currently suffer from the pain and stiffness of arthritis Omegawell can help.
What we like: Omegawell provides a combined 1400 mg of DHA and EPA in each capsule. They comply with sustainable harvesting guidelines and avoid potentially harmful additives.
Flaws: Hard to find fault with this product. If we had to nitpick, we might mention that the lemon flavoring could use some work.
2. Optima Omega-3 by Nuzena
Optima Omega-3 Fish Oil by Nuzena is notable for its purity and potency. The company itself is dedicated to using only sustainably sourced fish stocks for their products and making them available at a more reasonable price than most of their competitors.
What we like: This is a high-end fish oil product rich in omega-3 fatty acids and 3rd party tested for purity. All Nuzena products are manufactured in a GMP-certified facility and are completely free of GMOs and artificial additives.
Flaws: The returns policy is pretty lengthy.
3. Arazo Nutrition Omega 3 Fish Oil
Arazo Nutrition is well known for its full line of high-quality supplements. Here they provide a robust serving of omega-3s few other supplement makers can touch. The company is committed to sustainable fishing practices and extracts the oil shortly after harvesting.
What we like: 2250 mg per capsule of EPA and DHA. They conduct extensive 3rd party testing to ensure purity. And the natural lemon flavor makes the product palatable even if it begins to melt in your mouth.
Flaws: Don’t leave it in the sun or these gelcaps will melt.
OmegaXL fish oil is sourced from mussels harvested in the pristine waters off New Zealand. The resulting product is one of the purest on the market and one of the most potent. Rich in both EPA and DHA OmegaXL comes in small, easy to swallow capsules.
What we like: If you are looking for a fish oil product unsullied by human pollution, you would be hard-pressed to find one better than OmegaXL. Also, because this oil is harvested from mussels there is no fishy aftertaste.
Flaws: Each capsule contains only 300 mg total of EPA and DHA. So you may have to take several to get all the omega-3 fatty acids you need.
5. Carlson Elite Omega-3 Gems
Each Carlson Elite Omega-3 Gems capsule contains 1600 mg of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. The company is committed to sustainable fishing practices and does not use any threatened species for its fish oil products.
What we like: Carlson sources its fish oil from safe, abundant cold water fish stocks and subjects its product to rigorous 3rd party testing. This is a high potency fish oil supplement that can be taken with complete confidence.
Flaws: Very high quality but pretty expensive.
6. NOW Foods Ultra Omega-3 Softgels
Now Foods has grown into one of the country’s largest and most trusted makers of dietary supplements. Their Ultra Omega-3 Softgels are manufactured in their GMP facility in the US and subjected to constant 3rd party testing for purity and potency.
What we like: Ultra Omega-3 Softgels contain 500 mg each of EPA and 250 mg of DHA. The emphasis on EPA means these capsules are particularly useful for those fighting inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Flaws: You may have to take several capsules per day to get all the omega-3 fatty acids you need.
7. Viva Naturals Ultra-Strength Omega 3 Fish Oil
Viva Naturals processes their fish oil without using chemicals or heat. This ensures a high potency product that also minimizes any fishy aftertaste. Each Viva Naturals Ultra-Strength fish oil capsule is loaded with more than 1800 mg of EPA and DHA.
What we like: Because these capsules are weighted toward EPA, they are ideal for those looking to obtain relief from arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Flaws: The much-ballyhooed non-fishy taste is sometimes pretty fishy.
8. Doctor’s Best Pure Wild Alaskan Fish Oil
Doctor’s Best Fish Oil is gleaned from Alaskan Pollock harvested in the ice cold, crystal clear waters of the Bering sea. It is pure and potent and processed in a way that minimizes those vexing fish burps.
What we like: Each Doctor’s Best gelcap contains a total of 1200 mg of EPA and DHA. The fish are processed immediately after being brought on board the boats, which eliminates chemical breakdown of the tissue that can cause fish burps.
Flaws: The capsules are pretty large. So be mindful of that if you have trouble swallowing.
9. Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Fish Oil
Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Fish Oil is gleaned from sardines and anchovies and processed in the company’s GMP-certified facility. The company is also ‘Friend of the Sea’ certified. Meaning it has proven its commitment to sustainable fishing.
What we like: Each easy to swallow Nordic Naturals Fish Oil capsule contains 640 mg of EPA and 325 mg of DHA. There is also a hint of natural lemon flavor to counteract any fishy aftertaste.
Flaws: The capsules are pretty small, so you may need to take several.
10. Nature Force Omega-3 Fish Oil
Nature Force Omega-3 Fish Oil is a great choice for those looking for value in fish oil supplements. Each gelcap contains 400 mg of EPA and 300 mg of DHA, along with 300 mg of other fatty acids.
What we like: Somehow the company manages to keep quality high while keeping prices low. It is produced in a GMP facility in the US and has an enteric coating that helps minimize fishy aftertaste.
Flaws: Contains a small amount of soy.
Who Needs Fish Oil?
Anyone interested in achieving and maintaining a higher degree of overall health should consider taking fish oil. Anyone suffering from an inflammatory disorder such as arthritis should also consider fish oil. The same goes for older individuals looking for a way to avoid the worst aspects of cognitive decline.
Fish oil is no flash in the pan supplement. It is one of the most thoroughly researched products on the supplement shelf with an impressive array of clinical studies large and small singing its praises. In researching this piece, we sifted through more than 100 scholarly papers on the various ways fish oil impacts human physiology, and the chorus of medical approval was nearly unanimous.
Fish oil is not medicine. It will not produce an immediate benefit within minutes of administration. Rather, its benefits are cumulative. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil build up gradually in the system, and slowly work to restore order to a multitude of metabolic and cognitive processes. Whether you want to reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis, ensure better long term results from your resistance training, fend off eye problems, or reduce cognitive decline, fish oil should be on your shopping list.
How We Ranked
There are almost as many fish oil products on the market as there are scholarly papers singing its praises. But as with any product, some pass critical muster, and some do not. To separate the wheat from the chaff, we applied a fairly straightforward set of criteria.
To start with, we looked at the type of fish used as a source of the oil. Some fish, like catfish, king mackerel, tilapia, and herring, are known to have higher concentrations of mercury in their systems. As such, fish oil sourced from these fish had to undergo purity testing to ensure their safety, or they did not make our list.
Every product needed to be rich in both EPA and DHA, as these are the omega-3 fatty acids that produce the benefits we list below. Their content level essential sets the potency level of a given product. Therefore, if EPA and DHA concentrations were lacking, the product did not make our list.
Because sustainability of marine stocks is of vital concern to all human beings, we also gave priority to those manufacturers who employed sustainable harvesting practices. And finally, we checked to see if the processing facilities complied with the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices guidelines. If they did not, they did not make our list.
Fish oil may help slow physical decline. A study published in 2015 indicates that fish oil consumption can slow the decline in muscle mass associated with age (1). Omega-3 fatty acids promote the growth of muscle proteins. And that seems to be the case even in sedentary individuals. When coupled with a regimen of resistance training (weightlifting), the results are even more impressive.
Fish oil is good for your heart. Regular consumption of fish oil (at least twice a week) can help reduce risk factors for heart disease and heart attack (2). It does this by lowering blood pressure, reducing triglyceride levels, and thinning the blood slightly. Of course, that last part about thinning the blood means that if you are already on blood thinners you should avoid taking fish oil until you talk to your doctor.
Fish oil can help preserve your eyesight. There is compelling evidence that the DHA in fish oil can help prevent age-related vision loss (3). This should not really come as much of a surprise since DHA is the primary structural component of the human brain. That is, it’s the mortar that holds your brain tissue together.
Fish oil can help you recover faster from a strenuous workout. Weight lifters know that to achieve muscle growth, you need to push the muscle to failure. Doing so damages the muscle tissue, which opens the door for new, larger muscle tissue to take its place. But lifting to failure can leave a person very sore the next day. Omega-3 fatty acids help repair and rebuild muscles quicker, thereby reducing the intensity of soreness and its duration.
Fish oil is good for your skin. Research indicates that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil may be an effective treatment for inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and dermatitis (4). As we age, our skin begins to lose its integrity. There are many reasons for that, including loss of collagen, chronic dehydration, and UV light. This breakdown of skin integrity can open the door to chronic skin conditions. Fish oil may help prevent that from happening.
Fish oil may help prevent some types of cancer. We need to state right up front that no one is claiming fish oil is a cure for cancer. That said, there is some evidence that fish oil consumption may help reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer (5). Not only that, but they may have a role to play in mitigating complications often associated with cancer (6).
Fish oil is good for your brain. We mentioned above that DHA is literally the glue that holds your brain tissue together. Therefore, it only makes sense that the DHA in fish oil would have beneficial effects on your mind. While fish oil won’t turn you into a Rhodes Scholar, it can help you optimize your potential brain power, and perhaps fend off some of the more debilitating effects of age on the brain.
Fish oil may play a role in fending off Alzheimer’s. As we are seeing, DHA plays a central role in the development, maintenance, and daily health of the brain. And while the prospect of being able to optimize your brain’s potential is exciting, perhaps the most important role of DHA is in preventing degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease (7). To be clear, fish oil is not a cure for Alzheimer’s, but it may help prevent it from developing.
Fish oil may be useful in treating some psychiatric disorders. The more researchers learn about both DHA and the brain, the more they are discovering how one can help the other. DHA makes up nearly 1/3 of brain tissue and is absolutely essential to proper brain function. But it may also play an important role in treating and even preventing some psychiatric disorders (8).
Fish oil may help you lose weight. Food is a comfort vehicle for most people, especially in trying times. If you are trying to lose weight, denying yourself the comfort of your favorite dinner or snacks is not easy. But there’s hope. Researchers have discovered that omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in fish oil) can produce a sense of satiety (9). This should reduce food cravings and make it easier to stick to your diet.
Fish oil may help reduce menstrual pain. Menstrual pain is an unfortunate reality for millions of women. Many of those women spend a good portion of their lives trying to find ways to minimize menstrual pain. The good news is research indicates that fish oil supplementation may be an effective way to do so (10). In fact, it may be even more effective than common remedies such as NSAIDs.
Fish oil is good for your liver. Your liver is vital to the processing of fat. If it is not able to do its job effectively, body fat increases and people are at risk for all manner of health problems. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can increase the effectiveness of the liver to process most types of fat (11). Bear in mind, however, that this is not the case when it comes to alcohol-induced fatty liver disease.
Fish oil may help reduce inflammation. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response. But when it becomes a chronic condition, it can wreak havoc with a person’s health and wellbeing. Arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and more are all sources of inflammation. Fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation (12) and reduce the pain, stiffness, and discomfort that it produces.
Fish oil may help treat depression. Depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the US. It is estimated that more than 7% of Americans have at least one major depressive episode each year (13). Studies show that people who suffer from depression often have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood. Research also indicates that the EPA in fish oil can be helpful in treating depression (14).
Fish oil is good for your bones. As we age, our bones begin to lose their integrity. Levels of calcium and vitamin D begin to wane, contributing to arthritis and osteoporosis. There is evidence to suggest that fish oil may help pick up the nutritional slack and enable bones to retain essential minerals longer (15). This, in turn, leads to higher bone density and less chance of broken bones.
Fish oil may be useful in fighting asthma. It is too early to draw definitive conclusions, but a couple of small studies suggest that taking fish oil while pregnant may reduce incidents of childhood asthma. Again, there is not enough evidence to say for sure, but the early indications are promising.
Fish oil may be helpful in treating seizures. Medical science has made enormous leaps and bounds in the treatment of epileptic seizures. But the sad fact is that, for about 1/3 of people with epilepsy, current medications do not work. Recently, however, a small study suggested that fish oil supplementation may reduce the frequency of seizures for people with drug-resistant epilepsy (16).
Fish oil may help people recover from strokes. A study conducted on laboratory animals suggests that administering DHA, (like that found in fish oil), may help restore some mental function in the aftermath of a stroke (17). No large scale human studies have yet been conducted, but many doctors are convinced of the therapeutic value of DHA for stroke patients.
Fish oil may be useful in treating arthritis. Arthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the joints. It is characterized by chronic inflammation that causes stiffness, pain, and in some cases, deformity of the joints. Fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce some of the most debilitating symptoms of arthritis, providing relief while simultaneously enhancing bone strength and joint integrity.
Fish oil may help prevent prostate cancer. Fish oil’s relationship to the prostate is a hot topic in medical circles. That’s because, while there is evidence that fish oil may help reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer, there is also evidence suggesting the opposite. So who to believe? One analysis of the conflicting information suggests fish oil benefits outweigh the risks (18).
Q: Is there a difference between fish oil and krill oil?
A: The difference between fish oil and krill oil is that fish oil typically contains slightly higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil is also produced in a more sustainable manner from more sustainable marine populations.
Q: Why should I use fish oil?
A: You should use fish oil because of all the potential benefits listed above. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart, brain, skin, memory, bones, and more. They can also help stave off depression, reduce the pain of arthritis, and help your liver function more effectively. The fact is, you would be hard-pressed to find any other single supplement with so many easily quantifiable benefits.
Q: How much fish oil do I need to take?
A: How much fish oil you need depends on your age, your physical size, and what benefit you hope to gain. Health professionals generally recommend that healthy adults take between 250 and 500 mg per day (19). If you are engaged in vigorous resistance training, you may want to increase that amount by 50%. If your goal is to reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis, you may need to increase the amount of fish oil to as much as 2500 mg per day.
Q: Is fish oil loaded with mercury?
A: This is a common myth. But rest assured that if fish oil was loaded with mercury the FDA would not allow it to be sold in the US. The FDA monitors fish products and publishes advisory papers that help people make informed choices about fish consumption. The only species they are particularly wary about these days are shark, swordfish, halibut, and some types of tuna (20). But none of those are used in the production of fish oil.
Q: What are omega-3 fatty acids?
A: Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that play a crucial role in human physiology. Omega-3 fatty acids are typically found in seeds, nuts, eggs, grass-fed beef, and certain oils like flaxseed oil. A more abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids is marine life such as pollock, cod, anchovies, and sardines. There are two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – and we’ll get to them now.
Q: What is EPA and DHA?
A: EPA stands for ‘eicosapentaenoic acid’, while DHA stands for ‘docosahexaenoic acid’. These are the two types of omega-3 fatty acids, and they produce different benefits. EPA, for example, is best for fighting inflammation. While DHA is good for your heart, liver and skin. The two have overlapping benefits in many cases. But the fact that fish oil contains both means you don’t have to worry about whether you’re getting the right one.
Q: Is there any other way besides fish oil to get EPA and DHA?
A: As we mentioned above, omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in some nuts, seeds, and meats. Grass-fed beef and lamb are two examples. Many eggs are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. However, keep in mind that concentrations of omega-3s in these products are markedly lower than what you will find in fish oil.
Q: What is the best time to take fish oil?
A: The best time to take fish oil is when you remember to do so. There is no one time of the day that is inherently better than any other time. That said, gain order to be sure you remember to take it, it’s probably best to make it part of a daily routine, such as breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Q: Can fish oil go bad?
A: Fish oil can go bad, particularly if it is left exposed to direct sunlight or excessive heat. The best strategy for ensuring your fish oil supplements stay viable is to store them in a cool place away from sunlight. Keep in mind too that most fish oil supplements come in gelcap form, and these gelcaps may become sticky or even melt if left exposed to the sun for any significant amount of time.
Q: Is there a vegetarian equivalent to fish oil?
A: Vegans often have a hard time getting the omega-3s they need. But while it may be difficult to obtain fish oil-like benefits from other foods, it is not impossible. Kiwi fruit, raspberries, and canola oil, along with walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts are all decent sources of omega-3 fatty acids (21). Just be aware that, because your body needs to metabolize these foods to extract the EPA and DHA, the process is not as efficient as taking fish oil capsules.
Q: Can fish oil treat psoriasis?
A: Fish oil has robust anti-inflammatory properties that make it a potentially valuable treatment for skin conditions like psoriasis (22). Psoriasis is the result of inflammation, and also creates additional inflammation when it manifests on the skin. Fish oil can help reduce both the inflammation causing the psoriasis outbreak and the outbreak itself. Talk to your doctor about how much fish oil to take in your particular case.
Q: Can fish oil reduce appetite?
A: Fish oil has demonstrated the ability to make people feel full. If you are trying to lose weight, this can be of immense value to you. It helps prevent overeating and makes it easier for you to stick to your diet. Researchers believe this effect is the result of fish oil prompting the release of serotonin (23), a hormone that plays a key role in regulating appetite.
Q: Will fish oil interact with other medications?
A: Fish oil does not interact poorly with most medications. However, because of its ability to thin the blood, those currently taking blood thinners should avoid taking it until they consult with their doctor. Also, hemophiliacs should refrain from taking anything that would thin their blood.
Q: How long does it take to feel the benefits of fish oil?
A: Fish oil is not a fast-acting medication. It provides fatty acids that need time to accumulate in your system before they start producing benefits. You may start enjoying some of those benefits within a month, such as improved skin and a lighter mood within a month. But most benefits, including those associated with the brain and heart, will take several months before they appear.
Q: Is fish oil actually good for your heart?
A: Yes, fish oil is good for your heart. First, because it reduces triglyceride levels. (Triglycerides are a type of fat produced by eating more than necessary.) Second, because omega-3 fatty acids can help lower blood pressure (24). And third because those same omega-3s stabilize blood flow and reduce inflammation. All of those effects are beneficial for the long-term health of your heart.
Q: Does fish oil have any side effects?
A: The side effects of fish oil are almost entirely positive and include all the items on the above ‘benefits’ list. Instances of fish oil producing adverse side effects are rare, but it has been known to happen from time to time. Those side effects include fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and skin rash. Again, though, such side effects are extremely rare.
Q: Is fish oil safe?
A: Fish oil is generally considered safe for most reasonably healthy people. There are no special warnings issued by the FDA floating around regarding fish oil. And incidents of fish oil directly or indirectly causing significant health problems are rare. But while it is not possible to ‘overdose’ on fish oil in the commonly understood meaning of the word, you may wind up with diarrhea if you take too much.
Q: Can pregnant women take fish oil?
A: Not only can pregnant women take fish oil, they are often encouraged to take it. That is because the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are beneficial to both mother and baby. As we stated earlier, nearly 30% of the brain is composed of DHA, which plays a vital role in brain development. Fish oil may also help ensure that the baby is born free of asthma and allergies, while helping the mother avoid a serious bout of postpartum depression.
Fish oil provides a range of health benefits for people of all ages. Besides being good for your heart, brain, liver, and skin, fish oil has a multitude of other applications. It has shown promise as a treatment for depression, arthritis, menstrual pain, and epileptic seizures. And there is evidence it may help prevent certain types of cancer.
In addition, fish oil produces few side effects, does not require a prescription, is widely available, and is very affordable. Any of the fish oil products on our list will enhance your overall health in ways both obvious and subtle. Use the information in this guide to determine which one is right for you.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended fish oil, click here.