For all the talk about fish oil being the “cure all” of our time, I find it ironic that 95% of fish oil being sold and consumed is being delivered in a form that is not ideally absorbed by the body.
And I don’t say that lightly.
The problem comes from the way fish oil is processed.
In ancient times, fish oil was a staple. It had a long tradition and everyone understood its nourishing and energizing effects.
Even soldiers in the Roman army were given a ration of fish oil to support their strength, stamina and clarity of mind.
But back then, fish oil was made by hand and was usually fermented. This allowed for the fish oil to be transported and eliminated the danger of it spoiling.
Today, the process is much different and not nearly as effective.
Because almost all of the fish we eat contains heavy metals like mercury, fish oil must be decontaminated using a method called “molecular distillation.” Of course, making sure your fish oil is free from heavy metals and other toxins is critical, but the way they take out the toxins creates a new problem.
When found in nature, omega-3 fatty acids are in their natural triglyceride form (TG). However, in order to to purify the oil it is necessary to add ethanol (an industrial alcohol) to form a synthetic substrate.
In a vacuum, the mix is then distilled and the result is a concentrated omega-3 ethyl ester (EE) solution. Chemically, this new form replaces the glycerol backbone of the oil with ethanol.
The benefit is a pure fish oil, and the ability to concentrate the healthy omega-3’s like DHA and EPA. This is why almost all of the “highly concentrated” fish oils are in the EE form.
However, research is now showing that although this form of fish oil can yield higher concentrations of omega-3s, there are some absorbability issues.
The EE Form of Fish Oil Is Not As Easily Absorbed
According to multiple published studies the EE version was up to 50% less absorbable1 than the triglyceride form, and almost 300% less absorbable2 than the triglyceride form if not taken with a high fat meal.
So if you are going to take the EE form, make sure to consume it with a high fat meal at the very least.
What most people don’t know is that manufacturers can in fact convert the omega-3 concentrated EE form back into the healthy triglyceride form.
But manufacturers do NOT do it because the costs are significantly higher.
So instead, they sell you “powerful” fish oil that you have a hard time absorbing. Even worse, very few (if any) manufacturers of the EE form indicate that it is EE on the bottle.
How to Tell if Your Concentrated Fish Oil is EE or TG
This is a cool experiment (and fun for the kids).
- 1. Get some small Styrofoam cups and put them on some paper towels.
- 2. Take 3 of your fish pills and empty the liquid into one cup.
- 3. Get a certified TG form bottle of fish oil and empty 3 of those into another cup.
- 4. Wait 10 minutes.
- 5. Come back and take a look!
If the cup has disintegrated, your pills are the EE form. If they are TG, there will still be liquid in the cup and very little if any disintegration.
Why this happens is under debate. I find it a little unsettling to watch the EE form eat into the cup… but remember we are not made of Styrofoam so it is doubtful the EE form is doing any actual damage.
It is simply not as powerful as advertised.
Stay tuned and I can share more about the benefits of the concentrated TG form.
Until next time,
Steven Sisskind, M.D.
P.S. As you may have guessed, when we formulated our Omega-3 product we chose TG over EE even though it costs more. We also did two other things to make our Omega-3 product better than the rest. Click Here and learn why RealDose Super Critical Omega-3TG is the best omega-3 delivery system in the industry.
1. J Lipid Res. 1990 Jan; 31(1):137-Visioli F. Rise P, Barassi MC, Marangoni F. Galli C. (2003) Dietary intake of fish vs. formuations leads to higher plasma concentrations of n-3 fatty acids. Lipids, 38, 415-8
2. Lawson LD, Hughes BG., 1988. Absorption of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid from fish oil triacylycerols or fish oil ethyl esters co-ingested with a high-fat meal. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. Oct 31; 156(2):960-3