If you have taken a fish oil supplement before, you know the after-effects can be too much for a handful of breath mints to tame.
It may not sound like the most pleasant experience, but for many, this is a justifiable sacrifice to obtain many potential health benefits associated with fish oil. As it turns out, there are a few scientific explanations for why the supplement leaves you with fishy burps and some points to consider so that you can avoid them altogether. With the right information, you can leave the fishy smell behind and enjoy the benefits without the burps.
What Is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is the oil extracted from the tissues of various fatty, oily fish. Fish oil can be extracted from fish like mackerel, tuna, herring, anchovies, salmon, and more. Best known as a daily dietary supplement, fish oil can be taken in a small capsule or consumed in its raw form by the spoonful.
Fish oil is a common supplement for those looking to get more omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Omega-3s play an important role in the building of cells and in cell interactions, making them essential nutrients for the body.
What Makes Fish Oil So Popular?
There is a good chance you know at least one person who takes fish oil daily, if not several people. After all, the supplement has become extremely popular in recent years, filling up grocery store and health market shelves. This popularity is not without reason, as fish oil can offer several potential health benefits. These benefits include:
- Supporting a healthy blood pressure
- Helping to maintain a healthy heart
- Supporting healthy cholesterol levels.
- Promoting healthy cognitive functioning, like memory and motor skills
- Helping to support healthy joints
- Promoting a healthy mood
Altogether, fish oil has many admirable potential benefits, but these are not exclusive to just the supplement. The benefits of fish oil come from its high omega-3 fatty acid content, particularly because it contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These two fatty acids offer the most benefits out of the three main types of omega-3, and they are the main catalysts for the above benefits.
Despite offering many potential health benefits, DHA and EPA omega-3s are not easy to find in a standard diet and are generally only found in marine foods. With few alternatives, fish oil is incredibly popular.
Why Does Fish Oil Cause Smelly Burps?
Although often written off as a necessary evil, smelly burps associated with fish oil are often a sign that you should second guess your process. There are a few reasons why fish oil might leave you with unpleasant burps.
The Fish Oil Is No Longer Fresh
Fresh fish shouldn’t have a smell. When fish come out of the ocean, they typically only smell of the sea. However, the longer the fish are out of the water, the more they begin to smell, especially if they are not handled properly.
The biggest reason fish oil starts to smell is that it has gone bad. Unfortunately, fish and their oils can go bad quickly as they are highly susceptible to the oxidation process — a chemical reaction when oil meets oxygen and starts to break down. The fats in the oil combine with glycerol molecules, shortening the life of the supplement.
This is a similar process to what happens with metal when left exposed to the elements. Like metal, the oxidation process for oil is magnified by light and warmth, which is why many fish oil supplements come in tinted bottles.
Because the long-chain omega-3 fats in fish oil are unsaturated, they are more vulnerable to their environment. Therefore, it is important that you choose a high-quality supplement that uses a careful production process. Still, many fish oil supplements experience some degree of oxidation, which is difficult to track.
Fish oil supplements can go rancid from sitting on your kitchen counter for too long or, in some cases, can go rancid during the production process. The risk of foul fish oil is especially high if you buy from a brand that uses low-quality fish oil. Rancid fish oil is easy to detect when you have a bottle of pure oil, but it can be easily hidden inside a capsule, only releasing a foul smell once it hits your stomach.
You’re Taking It on an Empty Stomach
Long-lasting fishy burps can be a sign that your body is not digesting the fish oil as quickly as it should. The longer fish oil sits in your stomach, the higher the probability that it will leave you with fishy breath.
The easiest way to alleviate this problem is to take fish oil with foods that also contain fats. When you consume fish oil with these foods, your body produces more digestive enzymes. These enzymes allow your body to break down and digest the supplement faster so it doesn’t sit in your stomach and cause indigestion and heartburn.
The other advantage of taking fish oil with a meal is that the food helps to fill your stomach and trap the oils where they belong, preventing them from popping back up through your breath.
Some people are more prone to fish burps and indigestion than others based on how much acid their stomach makes, their enzyme production, and other scientific considerations. Regardless, those with high sensitivity to burps and indigestion should be sure to accompany their supplement with a nice meal.
Your Fish Oil Has Certain Additives
Unfortunately, you cannot take every fish oil supplement at face value. The risk of smelly burps can be even higher thanks to other additives in the supplement. For example, the casings used for fish oil capsules may contain additives that are harsh on the stomach, exacerbating your smelly burps by causing gas and digestive discomfort. Softgel capsules made from plant-based ingredients are often easier on the stomach.
The casing can also be responsible for smelly burps if it breaks down too quickly. If the capsule breaks down as soon as it hits your stomach, that fishy smell will travel right back up. By choosing a quality product with careful sourcing, you can expect the benefits of omega-3 without discomfort.
The Type of Fat Fish Store Is Not Optimal
Lastly, and the most difficult to overcome, is that the form of fat that fish store, the triglyceride form, is not water soluble, and human digestion is a watery process.
Fish obtain their omega-3 fats from eating algae and microplankton which are naturally high in DHA and EPA omega-3. Once they've digested these fats, fish convert them into a storage form of fat known as triglycerides — the same type of fat you've seen listed on your bloodwork.
The triglyceride form is ideal for fish who don't know where their next meal is coming from, but unfortunately, not ideal for human digestion, since we've all learned that oil and water don't mix… and even oil and vinegar don't mix. The oil sits on top, and this happens in the human stomach. So when a gas bubble erupts, it sends a spray of fish oil with it, right up your esophagus.
Is There an Alternative to Fish Oil?
Even with some benefits, the smelly breath that comes with fish oil is enough to leave you searching for an alternative, especially if you can find those benefits elsewhere without the drawbacks.
Many people choose to deal with the unpleasant scent of fish oil because it is one of the few sources of essential DHA and EPA fatty acids, but there are other ways to get these vital nutrients. Some people forego fish oil for krill oil, but krill oil does not offer much relief since it still has a fishy taste associated with it.
Fortunately, there is a smell-free, omega-3-rich alternative to fish oil: algae. Algae contains both DHA and EPA omega-3s, eliminating the concern of missing out on these two essential fats. Not only is algae nutrient-rich and completely free of any fishy smells, but it is also entirely plant-based and perfect for any lifestyle.
On top of it all, algae is friendlier to the body, especially when you take a supplement like iwi life’s omega-3 supplement. When you consume omega-3 fatty acids from algae, they are absorbed by the body up to 1.7 times better than those from fish oil. No fish = no fishy burps. Add that important perk to getting more potential health benefits, and you have algae emerge as the all-around better option.
Can Algal Oil Cause Fishy Burps?
Because algal oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, it can still oxidize. However, when you buy algae supplements from a source that is careful in its production, the risk of oxidation is not nearly as high. Some species of algae naturally create chlorophyll, which may help to keep algal oil stable and less at risk for oxidation than fish oil.
One of the challenges of fish oil is poor and ambiguous sourcing of the product. At iwi life, all of our algae supplements are produced with special care and concern, away from harmful marine contaminants and pollutants. Our algae is produced in ponds of salty water, far away from the ocean, and clearly sourced so we know that it maintains high quality.
Plus, our supplements are entirely plant-based, from the oil inside to the capsules surrounding it, making them easier on your digestive system.
Get Your Omega-3s Without the Smelly Burps
Fish oil does offer many great benefits, but the reality is that you can find the same benefits from omega-3s elsewhere — without the fishy breath. With iwi life algae-based omega-3 supplements, you can get all of your daily DHA and EPA fatty acids without any after-effects and with plenty of potential benefits. Try our omega-3 supplement for yourself and experience all of the ways it can support your health.
Fishing for answers: is oxidation of fish oil supplements a problem? | PMC
Lipid Peroxidation in Algae Oil: Antagonist Effects of Natural Antioxidants | PMC
Acute appearance of fatty acids in human plasma – a comparative study between polar-lipid rich oil from the microalgae Nannochloropsis oculata and krill oil in healthy young males | Lipids in Health and Disease | Biomed Central