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Avoid Fishy Labeling

Fish oil has become the next big thing. Touted as helpful in fighting heart disease, arthritis pain, mental illness and possibly some forms of cancer, fish oil capsules are now among America's most consumed over-the-counter supplements. Annual sales are about $1 billion.

But higher-priced brands aren't necessarily better. An independent review by ConsumerLab.com of 24 brands finds that some of the best products cost about 6 cents per capsule in a market where many brands sell for up to 50 cents each.

According to ConsumerLab.com, a firm that tests health and nutrition supplements, the best buys are Swanson EFA's Super EPA for "regular" softgels and Costco's Kirkland Signature Omega 3 in enteric-coated form. Both sell for about 6 cents per capsule.

Whatever you buy, ignore the front label claims. "Products may tout 1,200 milligrams of fish oil, but only a percentage is the healthful omega-3 fatty acids," notes ConsumerLab.com president Tod Cooperman, M.D. Claims of "pharmaceutical grade" or "tested in FDA-approved labs" are also meaningless in a nonprescription product.

Instead, read the side label. You want at least 500 milligrams of a combination of the acids known as EPA and DHA, ideally 200 of each, with the extra 100 coming from either.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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