Fish oil: tips and tricks

We often include fish oil in our therapeutic formulations, given that it is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Unfortunately though, fish oil can be a bit tricky to handle sometimes; here's some tips and tricks:

Firstly, why can't I just use bottled fish oil instead of these annoying capsules?

Good question! I completely agree that capsules are not as easy to use, however I believe it's worth the effort. Bottled fish oil is exposed to a lot more oxygen, which means that it can become rancid (oxidise) a lot faster than encapsulated fish oil. Unfortunately, omega-3 fatty acids are highly prone to oxidation during storage, forming a complex mix of lipid peroxides, secondary oxidation products, and diminishing concentrations of unoxidised fatty acids.

Rancid fish oil smells and tastes horrible; much more concerning is that it is likely to have a range of detrimental health effects. More research is needed, however animal studies show that oxidised lipids may cause organ damage, inflammation, carcinogenesis, and atherosclerosis.

To minimise oxidation, we recommend storing both capsules and liquid fish oil in the fridge (this is essential for liquid products), and also making sure that the oil is not exposed to too much heat or natural light. Keeping fish oil products in the fridge also helps to minimise their odour and flavour a bit, which is an additional bonus. Purchasing fish oil from manufacturers that conduct careful testing to ensure the oil isn't oxidised prior to sale is also very wise; more on this further on.

My pet won't swallow these giant capsules - what should I do?

Not everyone is blessed with a ravenous Labrador who thinks that fish oil capsules are just another awesome snack. Most dogs or cats won't swallow these whole, even when mixed into a meal, or covered with something tasty like vegemite or peanut butter.

If you are feeling brave, you can just cut open the capsules with sharp scissors; be warned, this is a messy process and the fish oil can go everywhere, including on your hands! You only need to spill fish oil on your hands once to know that it's really not fun - even washing your hands multiple times doesn't remove the fishy stench. You can wear disposable gloves, or you can try out this quick and easy method:

1) Place required number of fish oil capsules in a small ceramic bowl.

2) Add a small amount of very hot water to the bowl - just enough to half cover the capsules.

3) Use a fork or spoon to stir the capsules and gently squash them. The oil will be released as the capsule shells start to soften and dissolve, forming a mix of warm water and fish oil.

4) Stir for another minute or so, and ensure that all oil has been released from the capsule shells.

5) Remove the softened capsule shells from the mix, and add the oil/water mix to your dog's meal. If using this method for cats, use as little water as possible.

You can sometimes use this method and just add the capsules to a hot meal, instead of water, and they will soften enough to release the oil and mix into the food - generally this works better with 'soft gels' rather than the firmer capsules.

What fish oil should I buy? There are so many choices!

We include specific brand recommendations in our consultations, however generally-speaking, I like to look for products that are MSC-certified (Marine Stewardship Council) and also IFOS-certified (International Fish Oil Standards™). These certifications are typically displayed on the product packaging, for example: