Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil. What does that really mean?
First, here is what Pharmaceutical grade fish oil is NOT:
- It’s not an official FDA term
- It’s not a medical term
The term ‘pharmaceutical grade’ has become an unofficial measure of Omega-3 content.
Regular consumers have started using the word ‘pharmaceutical grade fish oil’. But it’s a phrase that has been used by the folks in the fish oil industry for a long time.
It’s not the bread-n-butter fish oil sold at drug stores
This oil most people have been buying for a long time, the ‘bread-n-butter’ grade oil is called ‘18/12 oil’. Eighteen-twelve.
Most of the fish oil supplements are still 18/12 oils. It is a cheap commodity. It’s considered ‘entry level’ fish oil. In car terms, think Ford Escort. The quality of this oil can vary from excellent to scary.
What does ‘18/12’ mean?
Fish oil has two main types of Omega-3 fatty acids.
The two main Omega-3s in fish oil are EPA and DHA. They stand for Eicosapentaenoic acid and Docosahexaenoic acid respectively. In 18/12 oils, there is approximately 18% EPA and 12% DHA. Together, there is a total of 30% Omega-3. The other 70% is mixture of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats – stuff your body does not need more of.
So if you buy a brand that says ‘1000 mg Fish Oil’ on the label, chances are that it is an 18/12 oil. So 30% of the 1000 mg is Omega-3. That’s 300 mg. 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA.
Amount of Omega-3 in One Softgel
For many years, almost all oils sold were 18/12 oils.
Then, roughly a decade or so ago, a couple of fish oil producers began making slightly more concentrated oil. It had 30% EPA and 20% DHA. They contained 50% Omega-3. As you would expect, we called it ‘30/20 oil’. This required a lot more work and purification. It was also a lot more expensive than the old 18/12 oil.
Since this new oil was much stronger, scientists had begun using 30/20 oil in human clinical trials. To justify charging a higher premium, clever fish oil marketers coined the term pharmaceutical grade fish oil.
That was 10 years ago.
30/20 oil is no longer considered very strong and 30/20 oil is no longer considered ‘pharmaceutical grade’.
Why? Because there are much stronger oils available.
There is the 40/20 oil. And the 36/24 oil. Both contain 60% Omega-3. Some marketers call these oils pharmaceutical grade.
We don’t agree. And most industry experts don’t consider 60% Omega-3 very strong.
As of this writing, there are ultra-pure fish oils with 80 to 90% purity. This is the grade of oil used in the prescription fish oil, Lovaza. OmegaVia contains oil of this purity.
Pharmaceutical grade fish oil should be similar in potency and purity as prescription fish oil, Lovaza.
Now that Lovaza has given us a pharmaceutical ruler to measure Omega-3 content by, we have an unofficial definition for what pharmaceutical grade fish oil should be.
Features and benefits
of pharmaceutical grade fish oil
- 80 to 90% Omega-3
- Only 10 to 20% non-omega-3 oils (as opposed to 70% in 18/12 oils)
- Easy to get high doses of Omega-3, like the dosages used in clinical studies
- Feel the benefits of fish oil with fewer pills
- Fewer pills to swallow
- Repeated molecular distillation required to get its high purity removes virtually all toxins and heavy metals like mercury
- Virtually no environmental toxins
- Ultra-purity reduces fishy odor
When you buy a pharmaceutical grade fish oil, you are not getting the old fish oil.
You are getting a pharmaceutically-active molecule.
Lovaza is a registered trademark of GlaxoSmithKline.
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.