How to improve Omega 3 supplement absorption?

The popular phrase “You are what you eat” nowadays is frequently changed to “You are what you absorb”. And this is a very accurate notice!

When to take fish oil?

There is no recommendation regarding a specific time of day, but experts recommend that taking omega 3 with a meal is much better than on an empty stomach.

We should take fish oil capsules during or directly after the main meal. The National Institutes of Health state that this can increase absorption of omega-3 fatty acids (also this protects from gastrointestinal side effects and discomfort).

The fat stimulates the pancreatic lipase enzymes. If there is more enzyme activity, there is also more completely the omega 3 triglycerides are split up and then better absorbed in the small intestine.

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Should I take fish oil with particular food?

It is the best to take omega 3 supplements with a meal that contains fat. This is because fat increases the absorption of omega-3s (1).

Saying “fat” we do not mean trans fat (like fast food), we mean good fat. To increase Omega-3 absorption, we can take it with a few eggs, a steak, a tablespoon of olive oil or milk. Meals with ingredients like avocados, olives, and nuts are also OK. Another example could be a breakfast of 2 eggs and a few pieces of bacon.

For example, Lawson & Hughes study (2) discovered that the absorption rates of omega 3 (EPA and DHA) from natural triglycerides enhanced from 69% with a low-fat meal (8g of fat) to 90% with a high-fat meal (44g of fat). Absorption of both EPA and DHA from ethyl ester oils was increased 3 times from 20% with a low-fat meal to 60% with a high-fat meal.

An American study (3) recorded even a 4 times increase in the absorption rates of omega 3 when taken with a high-fat food.

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What are the best Omega 3 supplements for better absorption?

There are 4 structural forms of fish oil: triglyceride, ethyl ester, free fatty acid, and phospholipid. Most popular are Natural Triglyceride and Ethyl Ester.

Some studies have shown that the absorption of omega-3 from ethyl esters is not as good as from the other forms (4) (5).

So, if you want better absorption, look for labels FFA (free fatty acids), TG, rTG (triglycerides and reformed triglycerides), and PLs (phospholipids), rather than EE (ethyl esters). Unfortunately, there is no requirement for manufacturers to put on the label name of the structural form.

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How do I know if my omega-3 fish oil is an ethyl ester or a triglyceride?

If the package doesn’t specifically say whether it’s ethyl ester or triglyceride then it’s most likely an ethyl ester. It is much more expensive to produce triglyceride fish oil.

There is also a simple home test that can show it:

• Step 1: Take your fish oil;
• Step 2: Get the polystyrene Styrofoam cup;
• Step 3: Squeeze the fish oil into a styrofoam cup and wait for 5-15 minutes.

If the fish oil dissolves the Styrofoam, it means it is an ethyl ester based fish oil. This happens due to the molecular form of the ethyl ester fish oil interacting with the polystyrene styrofoam.

There are many Styrofoam cup tests videos on youtube. What is most interesting that they state opposite results regarding what is good and bad. Some state that fish oil that dissolves the cup is good (6), some – that is bad (7). The truth is that all forms of fish oil dissolve polystyrene, however, the ethyl ester form does it much much faster. Overall, there are controversial opinions whether EE form is worse or not.

So, when choosing a fish oil product, its ability to dissolve the Styrofoam cup might be not the determining factor. The purity and its omega-3 dosage are more important.

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