Understanding the California Law Suit Over PCBs in Fish Oil Supplements

Long-time readers to this blog and my best selling book, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook, know of my enthusiasm for fish oil (omega-3 fatty acid foods and supplements). And, you’ve read where I’ve written that no fish oil supplements have been found “to contain detectable levels of mercury, PCBs, or dioxins.” Now comes news about a law suit over PCBs in fish oil supplements. Who are you to believe? Here are the facts:

According to a report in ConsumerLab.com, “A lawsuit was filed on March 2, 2010 by a group that tested ten fish oil supplements and found that all violated California’s Prop 65 labeling requirement because they contained PCBs.  While it raises legitimate concerns, the suit may have created some confusion.”

Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Virtually all fish meat and fish oil supplement will contain some PCBs.
  • The samples chosen were oils made primarily made from larger fish (including shark) and fish “liver,” which tend to have higher amounts of contaminants.
  • The majority of the products had extremely low levels of PCBs.  Somewhat higher levels were found in a few products.
  • But, NONE of these pose a health risk in themselves, but those with higher levels might unnecessarily contribute to PCB exposure.
  • The products are identified by name in a news release about the suit which includes two tables.
    • The first table shows total PCBs.
    • The second table shows the amount of dioxin-like PCBs, which may be more meaningful as it focuses on the subset of PCBs known to be harmful in animal studies.
    • Be aware that results in both tables are skewed against products that suggest higher daily serving sizes.

According to ConsumerLab, “To put the findings in perspective, total daily PCBs reported was under 100 nanograms for most supplements and did not exceed 900 nanograms for any.

“The importance of this is that the FDA permits an 8 ounce serving of fish to contain about 450,000 nanograms of total PCBs, 500 times more than in any of these products. The EPA, using a more conservative approach, estimates that the average adult can consume 1,400 nanograms of total PCBs per day without harmful effects.”

So, I, and the experts with whom I’ve spoken, stand by our previously published statements on the safety of omega-3 fish oil supplements.

You can read a couple of my other blogs on the topic here:

2 thoughts on “Understanding the California Law Suit Over PCBs in Fish Oil Supplements

  • Lisa Morgan

    Still fish oil supplement won’t able to harm consumers. It’s just that some proposed brands of fish oil contains dioxin that is really dangerous to human kind and to animals what more if some concern people won’t able to find this kind of awareness? Luckily we had a great krill oil its safer to take and less aware to think like if am I taking a nanogram of dioxin? of course not probably a lot of Omega 3 and anti oxidant which would really make you feel good.

  • Lisa, take a look at my blog, “Is Krill Oil Better Than Fish Oil?” You might find it interesting to know that krill oil supplements contain less of the omega-3s EPA and DHA than fish oil supplements. Therefore, it’s no surprise that there’s much better evidence that fish oil can lower triglycerides and cardiovascular risk. Furthermore, krill oil usually costs much more than fish oil. Especially if you follow my recommendations in the blog “If You Are Going to take Fish Oil — here’s how to take the right amount.” So, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database recommends to prescribers, “For now, advise patients to stick with fish oil (rather than Krill Oil. Recommend taking it with food or trying an enteric-coated product if fishy taste is a problem. Suggest krill oil only for healthy people who want to add these omega-3s to their diet but can’t tolerate fish oil.”

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