Should I Take a Fish Oil Supplement?

August 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Supplements

Omega-3 fatty acids are substances that your body requires in order to carry out various daily functions. Unfortunately, the body cannot make omega-3 fatty acids by itself, and therefore, we must ingest these healthy fats from food. Two important types of omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Docosahexaenoic acid and EPA can be found in animal-based food sources including fatty fish and shellfish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, mussels, oysters, and crabs.

Research has shown that consuming omega-3 fatty acids can positively impact your health. EPA, specifically, has shown to reduce inflammation, which helps keep metabolic processes in the body balanced and properly functioning. Research suggests that consuming EPA can help improve symptoms of people with depressive disorders.


DHA fatty acids provide a key structural role in many cell membranes, especially in the eyes, brain, and sperm. These fatty acids are also used to form eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are signaling molecules used throughout the body to elicit specific responses from other cells. They are primarily used when regulating responses related to inflammation, allergies, fever, or blood pressure.


Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids for adults over 18 years old is 1.6 g for males and 1.1 g for females daily. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least 2 times per week to obtain sufficient amounts of these healthy fats. For those who do not consume fish, one easy way to get enough omega-3 fatty acids is by taking fish oil supplements. Fish oil capsules contain both DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. These supplements are a great option as they are generally low cost and can be easily added into your daily diet.

To prevent a fishy aftertaste, try taking them with the largest meal of the day. Another way to avoid fishy burps and aftertaste is by purchasing enteric-coated capsules. The coating on these capsules delay the point in time in which the capsule is digested in the digestive tract. However, expert from the Food and Drug Administration, Siobhan Delancey, advises that absorption of supplements might not reach its fullest potential when coated as some of these supplements are best absorbed and utilized in the stomach. Overall, fish oil capsules can be an easy way to supplement healthy fats into your diet, especially for those who do not consume fish.


1. Boston 677 Huntington Avenue, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2012 [cited 2018 Aug 28]. Available from:

Thank you to dietetic intern Molly Lowery for her contributions to and creation of this post.

Can Vitamins Help Your Hair, Skin and Nails?

Sounds pretty simple: take a “high potency” vitamin cocktail and your hair, skin and nails will magically start to shine.

But is there any truth to the claims that dietary supplements can help improve hair, skin and nail health?

In short: no.

You see, the B vitamin biotin is associated with nail (and even a bit of hair and skin) health. But that’s when a diet includes an ample amount of biotin.

Having a sub-par diet and then topping it off with a biotin pill chase, isn’t going to do the trick.

A diet that is inadequate in biotin will result in poor hair, skin and nail health (as will a diet that has inadequate dietary fat).

But bulking up on biotin supplements will not make your hair, skin and nail health better.

Your best bet is to round out your diet with foods that are natural sources of biotin like nuts, eggs, avocados, vegetables, meat and fish.

Let the food based source of biotin work its magic, and save your money from those supplements, which in this case don’t do any good!

Dietary Supplements

September 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Consumer awareness, Supplements

I hope that you enjoyed Jamie’s post about protein supplementation last week. As a follow up, I thought it would be helpful to share some information about dietary supplements in general. Do some dietary supplements work? Yes. Are some dietary supplements dangerous? Yes. How should you proceed? Well, it depends. Here’s some food for thought.

Dietary supplements vs. drugs

Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, herbs, animal extracts, and probiotics. Similar to drugs, they come in the form of pills, gel capsules, liquids, and powders. But unlike drugs, dietary supplements are NOT regulated for safety or effectiveness by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they go to market. Thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Safety Education Act (DSHEA) passed in 1994, the FDA is only responsible for taking action against unsafe dietary supplements after they reach the market.1

Remember Fen-Phen? Ever heard of Metablolife 356, Lipokinetix, or Hydroxycut?  These are all dietary supplements that were banned by the FDA because they contained dangerous ingredients. Banned, yes, but only after confirmed cases of liver failure, seizures, cardiovascular problems, and deaths.

How can I find a safe dietary supplement?

The first step is to look for the United States Pharmacopoeial Convention (USP) seal of approval. The USP is a non-government organization that tests dietary supplements for authenticity, strength, dissolvability, weight, and packaging. USP verification is a voluntary process for supplement manufactures, but may provide peace of mind for concerned consumers.

Consumer Labs is another organization to consider. They test dietary supplements similar to the USP, then post their results to a subscription-based website:

Figure 1. USP and Consumer Labs labels.

USP and CL jpeg

The second step regarding safe dietary supplement usage is to limit your expectations. If a supplement claim sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Don’t expect a magic pill to make you faster, stronger, bigger, smaller, longer, thinner, smarter, etc.  A daily multivitamin/mineral supplement can never replace the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

The third step is to dismiss the well-known adage “If one pill is good, then two are better, and three must great”. Look for vitamin and mineral supplements that provide no more than 100-200% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). It’s an indisputable fact that chronic nutrient deficiencies negatively affect health, but 5000% of the RDA of a given nutrient will not make you 5000% healthier.  Besides, if you eat any amount of real food you are bound to consume some percentage of the RDA.  Combine this with a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement containing 100% of the RDA and you are assured of getting your needs met. Another idea to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement only every other day.

Take home message

First, ask yourself if you truly need a dietary supplement. What does it depend on for you (diet, lifestyle, finances, etc.)? If you do decide that a supplement is in your best interest, then the take home message  is “buyer beware”. Or at least be aware. Look for the USP seal of approval and avoid supplements containing more than 200% of the RDA. Also, if you are pregnant, lactating, or taking prescription medications, please consult with your physician before consuming any type of dietary supplement.