What is Enteric Coated Fish Oil? Do you need it?
Enteric coated fish oil does two things:
- It reduces fishy burps. Gross, I know.
- It protects the Omega-3 from harsh stomach acids. Stomach acids destroy some of the Omega-3 in fish oil. Enteric coating prevents that and gets more Omega-3 to end up where you need it.
|Alan Roberts, our in-house expert on Omega-3, literally wrote the book on how enteric coated fish oil helps Crohn’s disease sufferers (non-enteric coated fish oil does not help, by the way) and promises to write a blog about it soon.|
Reducing fishy burps with enteric coated fish oil
‘Fishy burps’ is the #1 complaint about fish oil.
This is unpleasant if the oil is rancid or old. It is really bad with discount fish oil that is close to its expiration.
I usually don’t have this problem but occasionally, it happens. My wife complained about this when she first began taking fish oil pills. But now, she doesn’t have this problem either.
I’ve talked to several hundred fish oil consumers and the ‘burping’ issue always comes up with those who are new to fish oil. Your body gets the hint and stops bothering you after a couple of months.
Burping is not necessarily a sign of cheap or bad fish oil. It happens with all oils. You’d burp extra virgin olive oil if you took it in a pill. It’s just a bit more unpleasant when it happens with old, rancid fish oil.
Enteric-coated fish oil does not dissolve in the stomach. It stays intact until it gets to the intestines. So no burping.
The Science Behind Enteric Coated Fish Oil
|The New England Journal of Medicine published a paper that proved that patients needed only one-third the amount of fish oil if it was enteric coated. Delivering omega-3 intact to the intestines instead of the stomach, allowed 3X as much Omega-3 to be absorbed into the phospholipid membrane. The study was done on patients with Crohn’s disease but the take away message about the absorption can be applied to healthy population as well. Another paper compared studies that used enteric coated fish oil capsules – three studies used enteric coated capsules with positive results and one used ordinary gelatin capsules (no advantage).|
Controlling Fishy Burps
There are two major types of enteric coating
- Synthetic coating
- Natural coating
I prefer the natural option. I’m guessing you do too. But it’s not the most popular option. Why? Cost.
The synthetic stuff is cheaper.
Synthetic enteric coating is made from Methacrylic Acid Copolymer. This chemical is spray painted onto the outside of the pill. Large tumbling blenders that look like cement mixers are used to spray paint thousands of fish oil pills with this chemical. Enteric coated fish oil pills look frosty, not clear like regular pills.
Methacrylic Acid Copolymer (or MAC as it is called in the industry) prevents the fish oil pill from dissolving in the stomach. Instead, it stays intact in the stomach and dissolves after the pill has moved beyond the stomach into the intestines. Once the pill is in the intestines, you cannot burp it back up. At least that’s the idea behind the technology.
Is the synthetic enteric coating safe?
Yes. I’ve thoroughly researched, investigated and talked to the nice people at BASF who makes this chemical. The chemical has been on the market for 50 years and has a proven record of safety.
But still…when it was time for me to buy fish oil for my family or friends, I always went for the natural option.
I simply don’t want to eat something called ‘methacryclic acid copolymer.’ Just doesn’t feel right.
Some manufacturers try to hide this chemical by calling it ‘aqueous coating’ or other fancy terms that sound less like a chemical.
OK, what about natural enteric coating?
Natural enteric coating is made from seaweed (algae) or tree bark (cellulose). So you might see the word ‘alginate’ on the label. Sometimes it is also called ‘natural food glaze.’
This technology is not as effective as the synthetic one. And it’s more expensive. But it’s worth it if you want a natural alternative.
Enteric coating is not perfect
Unfortunately, the technology does not always work. Many people still burp up after taking enteric coated pills. This is because, like paint on your walls:
• Enteric coating can chip off
• Enteric coating can crack
• Coating may be too thin to be effective.
In any of these cases, you may notice burps.
Is there any risk to Enteric Coated Fish Oil?
The greatest risk of enteric coating is that it can mask the rank odor of rancid, old, low-quality fish oil.
This is why I hear the following complaints:
“Enteric coating is a gimmick to hide low quality oil.”
“Enteric coating is a way to inflate the price.”
The complaints are always from marketers selling non-enteric coated fish oil. Enteric coating is NOT a gimmick. But the complainers have a point! Some companies use enteric coating as an odor-masking agent for lousy oil. And they may charge you more for it.
Bottom-line: Enteric Coated Fish Oil
Enteric coated fish oil appears better absorbed than regular fish oil. And it will reduce fishy burps. It’s a win-win. Especially if you start with high quality, pharmaceutical grade 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.