5 Tips for Choosing The Best Fish Oil
Criteria #1: Purity
Purity means having a fish oil pill that is virtually free of Mercury and other heavy metals (Arsenic, Cadmium and Lead), Dioxins, PCBs and Furans.
I’m not going to expand on WHY these chemicals are bad for you. The focus of this article is about how to avoid them so you can choose the best fish oil supplement for you and your family.
Bad news: if you eat Swordfish, Shark, Tilefish or King Mackerel, you will be eating quite a bit of mercury.
Good news: luckily, most fish oils are purified by molecular distillation and this high-tech process removes most of the scary stuff. This is why eating a fish oil supplement is much safer than eating whole fish.
Fish Oils in The News
ConsumerLab.com recently tested 52 brands of fish oil supplements for mercury. They reported, “The goods news is that every product, fish oil or Omega-3 supplement in this review was found to be free of mercury, PCBs and other contaminants found in
Toxins in Fish Oil: California Lawsuit!
ConsumerLab.com says everything is hunky-dory.
But in early 2010, an environmental group sued several fish oil manufacturers for having too much PCBs in their products.
Granted they did not start with the best fish oil supplements, here is a list of alleged offending products:
The products named in the PCB lawsuit are:
- GNC Liquid Norwegian Cod Liver Oil
- Nature Made Cod Liver Oil
- Nature Made Odorless Fish Oil
- Now Foods Double Strength Cod Liver Oil
- Now Foods Salmon Oil
- Now Foods Shark Liver Oil
- Solgar 100% Pure Norwegian Shark Liver Oil Complex
- Solgar Norwegian Cod Liver Oil
- Twinlab Emulsified Norwegian Cod Liver Oil
- Twinlab Norwegian Cod Liver Oil
Notice a pattern?
Most are Cod liver oils and Shark liver oils. And one Salmon oil thrown in for diversity.
Does anyone (other than me) think it’s ironic that a product named ‘Solgar 100% Pure Norwegian Shark Liver Oil’ is, well, on this list?
What the heck are people doing eating Shark liver oils, anyway?!
Sharks are top predators! Every time they eat another fish or seal, they add a little more mercury to their livers. The higher up on the food chain a fish is, the more environmental junk its body and liver will carry.
Just stay away from Shark oil and Seal oil, please!
Cod liver oil is better than shark’s but Cod are big fish too. And they live for a long time. This gives them plenty of time and opportunity to bulk up on environmental toxins.
The Best Fish Oil Supplements are Made from a few species of fish
Regular fish oil pills are made from anchovy, hoki, whiting, pollock, menhaden, mackerel and sardine. These small fish don’t live for very long. So they don’t get a chance to soak up toxins.
If you can buy fish oil made from anchovy and sardines, there is no reason to buy Shark, Cod or even Salmon oils.
When it comes to fish oils, remember, lower on the food chain the better.
By now, you may be thinking, if the PCB lawsuit had never happened, how would people have known that there was PCB in some of those fish oil brands?
Why don’t Manufacturers Share More Information?
Because they don’t have to.
Manufacturers are not required to say how much mercury is in their pills. So they don’t.
Same goes for PCBs, Dioxins, Furans and the other heavy metals.
The FDA started a ‘Read The Label First’ campaign.
A pointless campaign, in my opinion.
Because there is no way to know if there is any mercury or PCBs by looking at the bottle label. Some of the products called out in the California lawsuit mentioned ‘No Mercury’ on the label!
What’s a consumer to do?
5 Tips for Choosing the Best Fish Oil Supplement
- Ask for a Certificate of Analysis
- Buy Products that are 3rd Party Tested
- Buy Products made from the types of fish mentioned above
- Buy Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil
- Buy Lovaza, the prescription Fish Oil
1. Ask For a Certificate of Analysis
This is an official document on a letterhead, with signatures etc., that tells in detail what’s in the fish oil and what’s not. Ask for the ‘Certificate of Analysis’ of your fish oil. Look for the lot number on the side of your fish oil bottle, call up the manufacturer and have them fax or email it to you.
Some will do this. Most won’t.
If they try to get rid of you by giving you a pat answer like, ‘Our product complies with all quality specifications and regulations,’ then it’s time for you to move on to another brand.
2. Buy Only 3rd Party Tested Products
Or you can go to IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) website. IFOS is a third-party testing organization. They test fish oil supplements and publish a detailed analysis of the results on their website for the public to view.
|International Fish Oil Standards|
A product can receive up to five stars based on passing five different categories of purity.
1 Star for Oxidation Level Less Than 75% of CRN Standard
1 Star for PCB Levels Less Than 50% of CRN Standard
1 Star for Dioxin Levels Less Than 50% of WHO Standard
1 Star for Passing All CRN/WHO Testing Categories
1 Star for Greater Than 60% Omega-3 Concentration
IFOS is not the only testing authority around.
Consumer Reports, and ConsumerLab.com test fish oil products as well, but they don’t test regularly and their results are not publicly available. They test fish oils every couple of years and they only test a fraction of the available brands of fish oil.
There are probably a few brands of fish oil that are not IFOS tested but could probably pass with 5 stars. But IFOS testing is expensive so many brands opt out.
For now, an IFOS 5-star rated fish oil is the simplest way for anyone to feel confident that they are getting the purest and best fish oil supplement available.
3. Buy Fish Oil Made from the fish listed above
As mentioned above, these are small or juvenile. And they are short-lived, so they don’t accumulate much toxins in their bodies.
Algae oil is an excellent choice for purity as well, but that’s another blog for another day.
4. Buy Only Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil
We’ve talked about this several times before on these blogs. In short, producing a pharmaceutical grade fish oil with a very high level of Omega-3 requires repeated distillation and purification. This makes the oil stronger, purer and yes, more expensive.
But it’s a simple way to make sure you’re getting the purest and best fish oil supplement.
5. Buy Lovaza, prescription fish oil
Lovaza is the first and only prescription fish oil drug for treating high triglycerides.
It’s fish oil, just like many other pharmaceutical grade fish oil products. Except, it has been through an extensive FDA approval process. This gives many people a sense of comfort.
Like all fish oil, Lovaza can become rancid and stinky over time. So even though it started off as a very pure product, it can degrade over time.
If you are comfortable with high cost of Lovaza, anywhere between $280 and $520 per MONTH, you should definitely talk to your doctor about a prescription. Of course, your out-of-pocket costs may be lower.