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How to Read a Fishy Label

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Vitamin bottle tipped over and vitamins spilling out

If you’ve ever walked down a vitamin aisle trying to decide which of the various products to purchase, then you know that supplement labels can be a bit confusing. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most well-regarded and scientifically supported supplements on today’s market, but how do you know which bottle to purchase? Below are a few important steps to help you decode the label of an omega-3 bottle.

Omega-3 is referred to as fish oil, essential fatty acids and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). With more than 24,000 scientific papers published about omega-3s, omega-3 has proven to be beneficial for heart, brain and inflammatory health. Two types of omega-3s exist – long chain and short chain fatty acids. Long chain omega-3s come from marine sources such as fish, or more specifically, from the micro-algae fish eat. Long chain fatty acids are what you want to find on the product label because they offer the most benefit to our bodies. Be on the lookout for EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Short chain fatty acids such as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) come from plant sources such as flax, canola oil and walnuts. Short chain fatty acids are also good for you, but do not have the same impact as long-chain fatty acids. The vast majority of research that has been conducted has studied the impact of EPA and DHA on the body. When you look at the label, be sure to add together the EPA and DHA numbers to know how much is in the product. For example, see the Cooper Complete Advanced Omega-3 below.

   720 mg EPA 

+ 480 mg DHA  

1200 mg (found on the front of our label)

Bottle label for Cooper Complete Advanced Omega-3 Vitamins

Remember, EPA and DHA are the numbers that matter. Some labels can be tricky as they may include “other” or “additional” omega-3 in their total number on the front of the label. The additional omega-3 amount is not as important because it does not consist of the scientifically proven active ingredients. The additional omega-3 amount is usually comprised of many variations of other fatty acids, but since the vast body of research promotes EPA and DHA, this is where our focus should remain fixed.

How much omega-3 should you take?

Due to FDA regulations and ever-expanding research, one piece of information that you won’t find on product labels is the recommended dosage of omega-3. Cooper Clinic recommends a base line of 1200 mg of omega-3 daily (along with a healthy diet which includes natural sources of omega-3 like salmon and herring).

At this year’s Mindshare Symposium hosted by the Dallas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Dr. Cooper encouraged attendees to take 2,000 mg EPA/DHA per day as one of the steps to maintain optimal brain health. Below is a chart with other reputable organization recommendations. 

Omega-3 Recommendation Chart

The next thing to consider on the label is concentration. The higher the concentration listed the better, because a higher percentage means that you won’t have to take as many pills. Cooper Complete Advanced Omega-3 has a 60 percent concentration level, which is higher than many retail brands. Don’t be fooled by the words “pharmaceutical grade,” as this is purely a marketing term. The FDA has not defined what would constitute a pharmaceutical grade omega-3 product. 

Finally, be sure to check serving size, as this can affect whether or not the amount needed will fit into your supplement routine. The recommended serving size for Cooper Complete Advanced Omega-3 is two softgels combined to contain 1200 mg EPA/DHA.  

For more information about omega-3 fatty acids or other Cooper Complete products, please visit or call 888.393.2221.

Article provided by Karen Perkins, Cooper Concepts Account Executive.