August 15, 2017

When choosing a supplement, the assurance that it is ethically and sustainably sourced is just as important as price says Dr Sarah Brewer

What do you look for when selecting a fish oil? I look for potency and freshness, plus the purity and consistency that comes from taking a pharmaceutical-grade supplement. But I also want the comfort of knowing the fish oil I am taking is sustainably sourced, so the benefits to my health don’t have a negative impact on the health of the planet or the survival of marine animals. The flash on the packaging that confirms a fish oil supplement is ethically and sustainably sourced is as important to me as the price. Two of the most important certifications to look for are from Friend of the Sea and the Marine Stewardship Council.

Friend of the Sea is an international, non-profit organisation dedicated to conserving the marine habitat. It evolved from the Earth Island Institute's Dolphin-Safe Project, which saved millions of dolphins from dying in tuna nets, and pioneered the sustainable seafood movement. Only omega 3 fish oil and cod liver products that originate from sustainable fisheries and aquaculture are awarded the coveted Friend of the Sea certification. This shows the products are ethically sourced using selective fish methods that do not over-exploit fish stocks, threaten the marine food chain, or harm the seabed or coral reefs. Looking for a Friend of the Sea certification on the fish oil products you take helps to ensure the future of our oceans. Learn more at

The Marine Stewardship Council is an international, non-profit organisation that, like Friend of the Sea, addresses the problems caused by unsustainable fishing, and works to safeguard seafood supplies for the future. Their programme certifies the sustainability of wild capture species such as krill, a shrimp-like, Antarctic crustacean, which is a rich source of the long-chain omega 3s EPA and DHA. Krill also contains two powerful antioxidants, astaxanthin and canthaxanthin, which gives it its distinctive red colour. The combination of omega 3 and antioxidants make krill a popular ‘super-supplement’ for reducing inflammation.

krill, however, is also a vital component of the marine food chain. And, like many people, I want to ensure that my use of krill oil supplements does not impact the feeding grounds of marine wildlife such as baleen whales, Antarctic fur seals and adelie penguins. A Marine Stewardship Council certification guarantees this reassurance. Find out more at Read more about Healthspan's stance on sustainable krill fishing here.

Benefits of sustainable oils made to GMP standard

Once they are ethically sourced, the best quality fish oils are carefully tested and processed according to a pharmaceutical standard known as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). This distillation reduces odour and ensures purity; ensuring the oil is free from the marine pollutants that are accumulated by some deep-sea predator fish.

What’s the best dose?

The UK's Food Standards Agency recommends a minimum intake of two portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily. [i] This provides the equivalent of around 450mg per day of the beneficial, long chain omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, but is very much a minimum required for optimal health. Even so, few people achieve this. The average adult only eats a third of a portion of oily fish per week [ii] . For the 70 per cent of adults who eat no oily fish at all [iii] , taking a fish oil supplement should be high on the agenda for long-term health benefits.

What strength fish oil do you need?

It depends on how much seafood you eat, and the type. White fish, such as cod, supplies only small amounts of DHA and EPA compared with oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, for example. Cod liver oil supplements, however, can be concentrated to maximise the levels of DHA and EPA present, as well as providing beneficial levels of vitamins A and D.

· If you tend to opt for white fish, then a fish oil supplement providing at least 300mg EPA/DHA per day will support your nutritional needs.

· If you rarely eat fish, then a higher strength supplement supplying at least 600mg EPA/DHA is ideal for general health.

· If you have health concerns, then a super strength supplement providing double this amount, or more, may be recommended to provide heart, brain, eye and joint health benefits.

The European Food Safety Authority have confirmed that long-term intakes of supplements providing up to 5g EPA plus DHA per day to not raise any safety concerns. [iv]

Watchpoint If you are pregnant, or trying to conceive, only take a fish oil supplement designed for pregnancy. Supplements such as cod liver oil, which contain vitamin A, are not recommended during pregnancy. If you are taking a blood thinning agent, seek advice before taking a fish oil supplement.


[ii] Henderson L et al (2002) National Diet and Nutrition Survey: adults aged 19-64 years 2003

[iii] SACN 2004

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.



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