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What Are the Ingredients in Fish Oil?

by
author image Timothy Banas
Timothy Banas has a master's degree in biophysics and was a high school science teacher in Chicago for seven years. He has since been working as a trading systems analyst, standardized test item developer, and freelance writer. As a freelancer, he has written articles on everything from personal finances to computer technology.
What Are the Ingredients in Fish Oil?
Fish oil capsules on a spoon. Photo Credit PeoGeo/iStock/Getty Images

Overview

When you read the label on a bottle of fish oil capsules, you may find that it contains many ingredients with long, incomprehensible names. Some of the ingredients in fish oil capsules are the beneficial oils themselves. Other ingredients include the enteric coating that causes a delay in the release of the oil from the capsule, dyes and preservatives.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish oil tablets typically contain two specific types of omega-3 fatty acids beneficial to your health. One is called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which decreases the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease alongside its well known benefits to heart health. The other active ingredient in fish oil is called eicosapentanoic acid, or EPA, which works alongside DHA to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and the overall levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. A fish oil supplement may contain more oil than just the active ingredients, as not all the oils are the helpful DHA or EPA. When choosing a supplement, note how much of these two important ingredients are within each capsule.

Enteric Coating

Some of the ingredients listed on the label will be components of the capsules' enteric coating. Most fish oil manufacturers use a special coating to delay dissolving of the fish oil capsule in the stomach. This delay prevents the dreaded "fish burps" that can result when you consume raw fish oil. The label may or may not indicate which ingredients are actually used in the enteric coating. Most of them will be referred to as "aqueous" or "water soluble." They must be water soluble to resist being dissolved by the fish oils inside the capsule. Glycerin and its derivatives can be components of the coating.

Preservatives, Coloring and Flavors

Other chemicals in the list of ingredients might be preservatives that slow the spoiling of the fish oil capsules. One such preservative is d-alpha tocopherol. Chemicals used as flavoring may have vaguely familiar names, such as vanillin. Ingredients that provide color to the capsules will likely have complicated chemical names that are meaningless to most people. The reality is that different manufacturers have proprietary formulas for their fish oil products. While they must list the ingredients in their product, they do not have to reveal all of their purposes. If you do not like seeing a lot of mysterious ingredients in your supplements, you can find fish oil products with relatively few ingredients. Read the labels before purchasing.

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