Fish, krill, and algal oil supplements now account for approximately $1 billion in sales in the U.S. To help consumers choose among products, ConsumerLab.com selected 24 of the best-selling oil supplements and tested them for EPA and DHA, contamination, freshness, and, if applicable, proper release by enteric coatings. Amazingly, nearly 30% of the fish oil supplements that they selected for testing failed to meet minimum quality standards.
As discussed in the news release below, ConsumerLab found PCBs in all fish oil supplements (including krill and algal oil supplements) but typically at extremely low levels (addressing questions raised by the California lawsuit in March that I discussed here).
ConsumerLab also we found that price is not an indicator of quality with fish oil and that a person need not pay more than about 6 cents a day to get a good product (as I discuss in another blog, here); they also point out that the term “pharmaceutical grade” on products is meaningless; and they note out that actual amount of omega-3’s will range from less than 20% to over 80% of the “fish oil” shown on the front label, so you need to read the Supplement Facts carefully.
Here are more details from the ConsumerLab press release:
Softgels and Liquids for Adults, Children and Pets Tested, Including Krill Oil and Algal Oil Supplements
White Plains, New York – Tests of fish, algal and krill oil supplements revealed quality problems with 7 out of 24 products selected by independent testing organization ConsumerLab.com.
Three products contained less of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and/or DHA than claimed, spoilage was detected in one of these products as well as in two others (including a children’s supplement), an enteric-coated product released its ingredients too early, and a supplement for pets exceeded the contamination limit for PCBs.
Seventeen other products passed testing as did 15 products similarly tested through ConsumerLab.com’s voluntary certification program. ConsumerLab.com’s report is now available online to its members.
ConsumerLab.com reported these additional, notable findings:
- Labels on some products included terms such as “pharmaceutical grade” and “tested in FDA approved laboratories,” which are meaningless as there is no basis for either claim.
- A krill oil supplement that failed for both spoilage and low omega-3 levels claimed to be quality assured under GMPs (good manufacturing practices).
- Another “krill oil” supplement contained more fish oil than krill oil.
- Most products met ConsumerLab.com’s strict contamination limit for dioxin-like PCBs of 3 picograms per gram (3 parts per trillion). However, one product (a pet supplement) slightly exceeded this limit with 3.14 picograms per gram. However, this exposure is still very small compared to that from fish meat — a small serving (3 ounces) of fatty fish such as salmon may easily provide 170 picograms of dl-PCBs as well as a significant amount of mercury. Trace amounts of dl-PCBs were found in all supplements, despite claims on some of being free of contaminants. There was no detectable mercury in any of the supplements.
- The cost to obtain 100 mg of EPA and/or DHA from fish oil ranged from about 1 cent to 15 cents among fish oil supplements, and was about 30 cents from krill or algae oils. A fairly standard daily dose of 500 mg of EPA + DHA from a quality-approved product could be had for as little as 6 cents. Higher prices were not associated with higher quality.
- Concentrations of EPA and DHA ranged from less than 20% to over 80% of the marine oil content listed on front labels — which is why consumers should specifically look for the amounts of EPA and DHA which typically appear on side labels.
“Supplements providing EPA and/or DHA are a great alternative to fish as a source of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, as they typically have far fewer contaminants, cost less, and are more convenient to obtain. But products vary in quality, strength, odor-reduction, and price, so you need to choose carefully,” said Tod Cooperman, M.D., ConsumerLab.com’s president.
Consumption of EPA and DHA appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and may be helpful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, other inflammatory diseases, and psychiatric illness. EPA and DHA may also reduce the risk of certain cancers and macular degeneration. Fish oil supplements are given to pets to help maintain their coats and skin.
U.S. sales of fish oil supplements in 2009 were $976 million, up 20% from the prior year, according to Nutrition Business Journal. A recent survey by ConsumerLab.com showed that fish oil had become the most commonly used supplement among people who regularly use supplements, exceeding, for the first time, the use of multivitamins. Seventy four percent of respondents reported using a fish oil supplement.
The new report includes test results, quality ratings, comparisons and reviews of products from the following brands: Advocare, CardioStat (Amerifit), Carlson, CVS, Dr. Sears, Finest Natural (Walgreen), Garden of Life, Kirkland (Costco), Life Extension, Liquid Solutions, Master Omega, Natrol, Natural Factors, Nature Made, New Chapter, Nordic Naturals, NOW, NSI (Vitacost), Olympian Labs, OmegaBrite, Origin (Target), PregnancyPlus, Puritan’s Pride, Quest Longevity (Canadian), Res-Q, Solgar, Source Naturals, Spring Valley (Walmart), Swanson, Trader Joe’s, The Simpsons, Vital Nutrients, VitalOils (VitalRemedyMD), Vitamin Shoppe, Vitamin World, Weil, Wellements, and 1-800-PetMeds. The report also includes information about dosing, side-effects, cautions, reduced-odor products, and proper storage of fish oil.
In addition to the products reviewed, two krill oil ingredients by Enzymotec USA have been tested and approved for quality through ConsumerLab.com’s Raw Materials Testing Program.
ConsumerLab.com is a leading provider of consumer information and independent evaluations of products that affect health and nutrition. The company is privately held and based in Westchester, New York. It has no ownership from, or interest in, companies that manufacture, distribute, or sell consumer products.