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Dr. Mehmet Oz & Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil

by Vin Kutty, MS on October 22, 2011

Are Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oils just a gimmick?

Recently, Dr. Mehmet Oz’ show featured a segment on fish oil.

In the segment, guest, Dr. Tod Cooperman of ConsumerLab.com, discussed various dietary supplements.

In this bit, Dr. Cooperman mentioned that ‘Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil‘ was a marketing gimmick and that such a thing does not exist.

Is there any truth to this?

Dr. Cooperman is half right.

He’s right that there is no formal FDA definition of ‘Pharmaceutical grade fish oil,’ and that it is a term coined by fish oil manufacturers.

But a gimmick, it’s not!

As Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story:

Back in the dark ages of the fish oil supplementation, say early 1990s, we had cod liver oils and one kind of fish oil.

The fish oil was Anchovy oil with about 20 to 25% Omega-3. At the time, this was amazing progress.

25% Omega-3? Wow! Fantastic!

With those pills, a 1000 mg fish oil pill would give you about 250 mg of Omega-3.

I recall when a scientist friend of mine sat me down and said, ‘You realize that you have to take almost a dozen of those to get any benefit, right?’

I was stunned for a moment.

And then I realized that she was right. So I increased my dosage from one pill per day to 4 or 5. There’s no way I was going to take a dozen a day! I’d go broke! And smell like a fisherman!

So till about the turn of the century, 25% Omega-3 was about all we had.

We didn’t know any better.

Enter Super Omega!

This was a newer, more potent oil with as much as 50% Omega-3.

50% Omega-3? Wow! Fantastic!

Now I only had to take 6 honking pills a day to reduce my triglycerides.

All was well. We didn’t know any better.

Then came 60% Omega-3. Whoa! Let’s not get crazy there, fella!
Larger View of Chart


By this time, health food stores were selling a ton of these new oils. But nobody knew what to call them. Certainly these new oils were much better than the old ones.

It was not your father’s Oldsmobile.

Then, the famous Dr. Barry Sears coined the term ‘Pharmaceutical grade fish oil‘ to help distinguish this new double-strength fish oil from the lowly 25% stuff.

He was fully justified. After all, the same pill had twice the Omega-3 goodies.

Pharmaceutical grade. It had a nice ring to it. So it stuck.

So is calling it ‘pharmaceutical grade’ a gimmick?

Absolutely not!

Here’s what Pharmaceutical Grade means:

  • It means fewer pills.
  • It means twice or three times the amount of Omega-3.
  • It means less of the other stuff that’s not Omega-3.
  • It means feeling the benefits you’re supposed to.
  • It means more effective.

Lovaza: the first prescription fish oil

Fast forward a few more years. Out comes Lovaza with 85% Omega-3. But you had to go to your doctor to get a prescription first. And if your insurance is anything like mine, it also costs $160 per month.

Around 2008, a few supplements with 85 to 90% Omega-3 were launched. OmegaVia is one of them.

You didn’t need a prescription. And it didn’t cost $160 every month.

pharmaceutical grade fish oil vs regular fish oil

Today, you can buy supplements that are as pure or purer than prescription fish oil.

These prescription strength fish oils need to be distinguished from the 25% Omega-3 oils at the corner drug store that sell for $3.99 a bottle.

So we call it pharmaceutical grade.

Or Clinical Strength.

Or Prescription Strength.

People who read and understand the supplement facts on a fish oil label ‘get it’.

Call it a marketing gimmick if it makes you happy.

And that’s just fine by me.

COUNTER POINT: A gimmick in plain sight?

Here’s an example of a label I saw at Albertsons this afternoon:

It says PHARMACEUTICAL GRADE in red, all-cap letters.

Here’s the front of the label.
example of pharmaceutical grade fish oil

And here is the back of the label.

pharmaceutical grade fish oil label supplement facts box

This 1200 mg pill has 360 mg of Omega-3. So this fish oil contains only 30% Omega-3.

It’s not 50%, 60%, let alone 85%.

In this case, Dr. Tod Cooperman is right. This one looks like a gimmick.

DISCLAIMER: This website is for your education and general health information only. The ideas and suggestions contained on this website are not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from your doctor for any health condition or problem. Users of this website should not rely on information provided on this website for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician.

Author Vin Kutty is an expert on fish oil About the Author: Vin Kutty is OmegaVia’s Scientific Advisor and Chief Blogger. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with over 20 years of experience. Email him.

pharmaceutical grade fish oil

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon July 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Hello,
Can you please tell me if it is better to take fish oil in the form of a tablet vs. straight up? I can stomach the liquid fish oil, and was wondering if it has more benefits, such as absorbtion, compared to the tablets?
Also, what is your opinion about Innate Choice and Carlson brand of fish oil? Is Nordic Naturals your preferred one over Carlson? How does Innate Choice compare to OmegaVia? (I believe OmegaVia is pharmeceutical grade also.
Is OmegaVia only available for purchase online?

Thanks for your help,
Sharon

Reply

Omegavia July 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Hi Sharon – no known difference between liquid fish oil and in gelatin capsules. With liquid fish oil, the Omega-3 concentration is usually low but you can get a lot of Omega-3 into your body quickly and cheaply with a tablespoonful, but there is risk of the oil going rancid if not stored properly and consumed within a month or two of opening. With capsules, you can get much higher concentrations of Omega-3 but you have to take a lot of pills to get to the amount of Omega-3 found in one tablespoon.

For liquid fish oil, my choice is Nordic Naturals, followed by Carlsons, OmegaRx and may be Barleans. Innate Choice is a 30% pure oil. The quality may be good but the potency is very low. OmegaVia is 85%+ pure. The current lot is well over 90% pure. They are very different products. Yes, OmegaVia is available online and in some doctor’s offices.
- Vin Kutty

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Dr Atkinson May 28, 2013 at 5:40 pm

I’m not partial to Innate Choice , but I personally take it and think it is a great product. You need to check your facts again. The latest 3rd party testing puts Innate Choice at 860mg EPA, 510mg DHA, with a total of 1690mg. Thats 81% omega 3 not 30%.

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Vin Kutty May 29, 2013 at 12:34 am

Hi Dr Atkinson – the Innate Choice Omega Sufficiency product website claims a minimum of 1,200 mg Omega-3 and maximum of 1,375 mg of Omega-3 per teaspoon, which is roughly 4000 ml. That’s between 30% and 34%. At 1,690 mg, it would be just under 43%. This is normal and typical for liquid fish oil supplements.

If you’re talking about the capsule product, their label claims a maximum of 1,700 mg of Omega-3 in 4,500 mg of oil. That’s 37%. Remember that 1,700 mg is for FOUR capsules.

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Carmen Ruiz November 26, 2012 at 1:20 am

I was browsing the IFOS site and they have a list of omega 3 providers. Ur site was not on the list.

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Vin Kutty November 27, 2012 at 1:07 am

Hi Carmen – the results of our test should be here: http://www.ifosprogram.com/files/IFOS%20Innovix%20OmegaVia%20Batch%20S2A042.pdf
And the reports of other tested products are here: http://www.ifosprogram.com/consumer-reports.aspx
OmegaVia is listed on the page.
- Vin Kutty

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bpaul December 27, 2012 at 2:12 am

hello vin, i have two questions….and hope they are not redundant!.
is fish oil as good as krill oil? which of your products is your best recommendation for me…i am 63, and for my son who is 36 who is
trying to build some muscles!

when i was a child ( during the 50′s) my father used to make me and my siblings to have a tbsp of cod liver oil after dinner – but only in the 3 months of winter. i think that it helped build our immunity and basic health though it tasted so nasty that we dreaded finishing up dinner as
we knew what was to follow. but thankfully….he also provided our favorite candies which we ate immediately after swallowing the oil with our noses pinched closed tightly!
btw….thanks for your expert advise and info on this blog.

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Vin Kutty December 27, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Hi bpaul – Krill oil is slightly better absorbed. But there are several disclaimers with krill that nobody talks about. First being the amount of Omega-3 in krill oil pills – it is very low. So unless you’re prepared to take 5, 10 or even a dozen krill oil pills per day at the cost of $5-10 per day, it is not worth it. Stick with fish oil – it gives you the most bang for the buck.

Cod liver oil was the best we could do in the 1950s. You can have the same benefits without any of the need to pinch your nose in disgust. Again, just get a high potency or pharmaceutical grade fish oil capsule.
- Vin Kutty

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E Williams December 31, 2012 at 6:31 pm

I have a question, in our family we been taking fish oil for many years. The problem we have is that the mayority of the brands we have try we are consistenly burping the fish. The only type we have found is the ones that contain orange oils .
We are looking to find affordable omega with good quantity of DHA and EPA, DPA with Omega acids.
Could you help us with some information regarding our issue.
Thank you in advance

Reply

Vin Kutty December 31, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Hi E Williams – the next time you try a new fish oil, make sure you get an enteric coated product. This will prevent the fishy burping. And also, make sure it is ‘pharmaceutical grade,’ which will ensure you will have high amounts of EPA, DHA and even some DPA.
- Vin Kutty

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Dave Lekie June 20, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I appreciate your information and I enjoy how you present it with your touch of a friendly personality!

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Vin Kutty June 22, 2013 at 4:22 am

Thank you, Dave.

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Hugh August 23, 2013 at 5:32 pm

HI Vin,
What is the process used to concentrate your fish oil? I thought the natural would be better for you than something artificially concentrated or chemically altered? Doesn’t it make sense to consume fish oil in the form and ratio that it is found in nature?

Hugh

Reply

Vin Kutty August 23, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Hi Hugh – you have a good point. It is a purist point of view. If you feel strongly this way, then the only way to get your Omega-3 is from wild, fresh-caught fish. Anything else is concentrated, processed or altered. There is no getting around the fact that when you extract ONE SINGLE nutrient from a fish and put it in a pill, you are removed from what is found in nature. I still maintain that getting your Omega-3 directly from fish is the best. There are so many other nutrients in fish that is not present in fish oil that it’s a shame. Having said that, fish oil supplements are for people who admit that they don’t or won’t eat wild, cold-water, fresh-caught fish 3 times a week.

Once you accept the above statements, then, discussing the natural or artificial nature of Omega-3 supplements becomes irrelevant. Fish = natural. Fish oil = not natural. Fish is best. Fish oil supplements are second. Plant oil supplements are a distant third, when it comes to getting Omege-3 incorporated into your cell membranes.

To get to the nitty gritty, if you look at just fish oil supplements, then there are several molecular forms, ratios and concentrations. Each has its place and purpose – that’s the idea behind this blog. All fish oil supplements, regardless of these variations, have the same pharmacodynamics – what it does to your body. Regardless of what people will say – they usually confuse pharmacodynamics with pharmacokinetics. Big difference.

Finally, to answer your question, we purify our oil using molecular distillation and supercritical CO2 extraction.

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Morgan Paris October 9, 2013 at 4:59 am

You seem to know quite a lot about fish oil, so I would like to ask you your opinion concerning two different fish oil products that I have been taking off and on for a few years. Both are doctor recommended. The first, which I have been taking the longest, is called Icelandic Formula and is personally recommended by Dr. Garry Gordon. It tends to put me in a good mood, but after a while I often begin to get strange red spots, much like welts, on my skin and whenever this occurs I switch over to Ultra Refined Omega/RX which is a product developed by Dr. Barry Sears, the person who coined the term ‘pharmaceutical’ fish oil. This does not enhance my mood, but I do notice a shift in energy and any negative symptons that I might incur are usually very slight. So I use this as an alternative. Both claim to be the best fish oil around, and yet neither one is ever mentioned on any of the ‘Best Lists’ that I have observed. So I was wondering what you thought of these two products. Here is the information that is printed on the back of each bottle.
Icelandic Formula.
Serving Size 3 softgels. Amount per serving.
Omega-3 1800 mg. EPA 900 mg. DHA 600 mg.
Ultra Refined Omega/RX. (Zone Labs)
Serving Size 4 capsules. Amount per serving.
Fish Oil Concentrate 4000 mg. EPA 1600 mg. DHA 800 mg.
I would be interested in any comments that you might have about these two products. Because I take fish oil supplements on a daily basis, I may also try out your product on a trial basis and possibly add it to my repetoire, as good quality fish oil is always worth continually taking!
Best Regards,
Morgan Paris

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Vin Kutty October 9, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Hi Morgan – I am much more familiar (and comfortable) with the OmegaRx product. I know Dr. Sears and some of his people. They really do care about the quality of their product. They’ve been at the forefront of fish oil supplementation for a long time. All their products are third-party tested and very pure. Yes, it is expensive but it is a good product and I trust them. Having said that, I would have ranked the OmegaRx product in my ‘best of’ list 5 or so years ago, but advances in fish oil purification has come a long way that enables us to provide more potent oils. OmegaRx is 60% Omega-3, which was considered very high 5 or 10 years ago, but now is average or below-average for a pharma grade fish oil.

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Morgan Paris October 10, 2013 at 2:07 am

Hi Vin,
Thanks for your prompt reply. I was surprised that you were not familiar with Icelandic Fourmula Omega-3 fish oil, as I thought that it was very well known; but perhaps not as well known as I had thought. I will certainly be trying your product on a trail basis in the near future. Right now I have a large stock of fish oil supplements; but if I like your product, I will order a large supply when the time comes for me to reorder, as I take fish oil on a daily basis.
So thanks again for your information, and also quick response.
Morgan.

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David Smith October 29, 2013 at 1:43 am

Vin,
I believe that you are 100% correct that natural is better and that eating fish such as Salmon to get your omega 3 is better then a supplement. I was also warned about the mercury content in fish and not to eat it more then once a week. What are your thoughts?
I was eating Salmon about 4 times a week plus taking OmegaVia supplements for quite some time and I can say that since I have taken that advice and not eating as much fish, my energy level has declined. I really want to go back to the way I use to eat!
David

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Vin Kutty October 29, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Hi David! It’s been a while. Hope you’re well.

Eating fresh, wild, cold water fish is a much better alternative to taking fish oil supplements. It does not compare. There is no reason to stop eating most fish. I have a list of fish to avoid in this blog: http://www.omegavia.com/mercury-fish/ If you avoid shark, marlin, some Tuna and King Mackerel, you’ll be fine. But the good thing is that the list of fish that’s OK to eat is quite long. Also, eating fish gives you selenium, which the body needs to get rid of mercury and other toxins. It’s almost as if eating fish has the antidote to the poison.

Since you were eating salmon 4 times a week, I’d go back to eating it at least twice a week. Take care.

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Monica October 29, 2013 at 10:01 pm

What are some other brands, besides OmegaVia, that contain >80% Omega 3′s concentration? Does OmegaVia have any advantages over them?

Also, I know Lovaza delivers esterified fish oil, which must be how they can deliver such high concentrations of Omega 3′s. Is OmegaVia also esterified ?

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Vin Kutty October 30, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Hi Monica – here is a list of products that you may want to consider: http://www.omegavia.com/favorite-fish-oil-brands-part-2/

The list of products with >80% Omega-3 is growing, so it’d be virtually impossible to compare all of them. If you have a specific product in mind, let me know and I will give you a fair comparison.

Yes, OmegaVia is esterified.

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Sharon November 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Hi: I have just gone through your webpage and read all the comments. As my husband and I are first timers in researching brands and qualities of omegas and fish oil supplements, we are basically lost when it comes to who, what, etc.
As my husband is almost 86, a long time Marine, professional deep sea diver with other professions that caused big bad injures, he is not your usual person inquiring about health supplements. He has lingering effects of these injures, mainly lots of pain, probably from the inflamation from these injures. Aside from the constant pain, he is really good health. Oh, another thing, he is allergic to shellfish so I wonder about that being a problem with some product.

Any advice about which supplement would be for him?? Thank you for your help

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Vin Kutty November 4, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Hi Sharon – the first thing is to switch to a anti-inflammatory diet. There are several of them that you can search for online. But the key thing they all have in common is the elimination of sugar, refined and processed carbohydrates and all vegetable oils. You can still use olive oil without making inflammation worse.

Diet change will get you the biggest bang for the buck. Supplements, as the name suggests, are supplemental to diet.

I would look into pharmaceutical grade fish oils. These have more anti-inflammatory Omega-3 than regular fish oils. Take 2000 mg of Omega-3 per day – they will require anywhere from 2 to 4 pills a day. Taking them with a large meal greatly improves absorption. Also, taking a baby aspirin with fish oil will also increase the anti-inflammatory effects. Please check with your doctor if it is OK for him to do all this.

If you are allergic to shellfish, fish oil will not cause any issues. I would stay away from krill oil since krill is a shellfish…even though the shellfish proteins that he is allergic to are unlikely to be present in the oil itself.

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Berniece O. December 1, 2013 at 11:01 am

Hello, are these safe for kids ages 2 and up?

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Vin Kutty December 2, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Hi Berneice O – the pills will be way to small for kids under 12 for OmegaVia and kids under 10 or so for EPA 500.

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donna January 8, 2014 at 10:10 pm

I have fibromyalgia and take omega-3 fish oil. What is the best ratio between epa dha fatty acids?
Thank you and God bless you

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Vin Kutty January 9, 2014 at 1:28 am

Hi Donna – I don’t know if there is a need for a specific EPA to DHA ratio for fibromyalgia. It goes without saying that 1000 to 2000 mg of Omega-3 per day will probably help. Have you tried a whole foods, wheat-free anti-inflammatory diet like Paleo or Zone? Have you addressed Vitamin D, Magnesium and B12 deficiencies? This may be worth reading: http://www.dramymyers.com/2013/06/27/a-functional-medicine-approach-to-fibromyalgia/

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donna January 9, 2014 at 2:42 am

Thank you for responding so quickly. I am on a dairy free, gluten free diet. My vitamin d and b12 are in normal range and thyroid is good too. I don’t know about magnesium or some of the other things your article is referencing. As I child I used to get many yeast infections. I take probiotics and have cut down on sugar. I will have to look into some of the other things. I didn’t ask my original question properly. I was told it is important to have epa and dha higher in mg than omega 3 fatty acids. is this true?

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Vin Kutty January 9, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Hi Donna – not sure I follow – EPA and DHA are both Omega-3 fatty acids. They are the two most prominent Omega-3s in fish oil. But I’ll guess that your source is advising that you take a concentrated EPA and DHA product. I agree with that.

May want to consider a magnesium glycinate product. It is very difficult to get enough magnesium even with the best diets.

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donna January 9, 2014 at 10:57 pm

ok thank you

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raji nannapaneni January 27, 2014 at 4:22 am

Hello,

I need some advice on picking the right kind of product for my 16 yr old nephew. He suffered brain injury stemming from cardiac arrest and has been in a minimally conscious state since September 2013. I have been reading up on high dose fish oil supplemetation as an alternative treatment in such cases. Was wondering if you had any specific recommendations on what to use. It has to be in a liquid form for administering via his G-tube. Any advice you may have is deeply appreciated. Thank you.

Regards,
Raji

Reply

Vin Kutty January 27, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Hi Raji – any liquid fish oil from Nordic Naturals or Zone should be OK. If I were you, I would contact Dr. Barry Sears at Zone, since he is an expert in the field. He’s helped people in similar situations. I have a strong feeling that he will recommend a very high dose of fish oil, but you will have to ask him the details. Good luck.

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raji nannapaneni January 27, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Thank you for your prompt response, appreciate it very much. I was looking at the Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Xtra liquid, seems to have the highest concentration of Omega-3′s compared to even the Zone products. Will definitely touch base with Dr.Sears and follow up. Thanks again….Raji

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Barbara Ledwon February 18, 2014 at 2:04 am

I am so confused I have just purchased OmegaXL I have 60 days to try it I feel it is very expensive it is made by a company Omegavia or something like that please reply it is very expensive is it worth the money

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Vin Kutty February 18, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Hi Barbara – OmegaVia does not make OmegaXL. OmegaVia and OmegaXL are very different products. OmegaXL is the product advertised by Larry King on TV.

Yes, OmegaXL is an expensive product – is it worth it? Well, only you can be the judge of that. If it works in doing what it is supposed to do, then expensive becomes value. If it doesn’t work, you have several other good alternatives, including OmegaVia. Please keep us posted on your experience.

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CHERYL June 17, 2014 at 5:19 pm

I am trying to determine which omega 3 would be more beneficial….Omega Via or Premium Omega 3 with Vit. D and Astaxanthin by Pure Prescriptions for overall health. It seems the Omega 3 dosage is quite different..? Your opinion please.

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Vin Kutty, MS June 17, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Hi Cheryl – the Pure Prescriptions product is fine if you’re pregnant or nursing, as it is higher in DHA. Well, 240 mg DHA per pill. OmegaVia has 260 mg of DHA per pill. Pure Pres has 40 mg of EPA per pill while OmegaVia has 780 mg per pill.

OmegaVia is designed for people who’re not pregnant or nursing. The high EPA in OmegaVia has several advantages. More here: http://www.omegavia.com/why-omegavia-is-high-in-epa-omega-3-part-1/

You certainly don’t have to buy OmegaVia, but here are a few of our other favorites: http://www.omegavia.com/favorite-fish-oil-brands-part-2/

Reply

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