Regular Fish Oil – what’s in it?
‘Regular’ fish oil is sold in most grocery, drug and warehouse stores. They are inexpensive – you can get several hundred pills for $15.
These oils are usually made from Sardines and Anchovies caught in the Pacific ocean, off the coast of Peru and Chile. The data for the chart above is from Sardine oil.
They contain a blend of Omega-3, Omega-6, saturated, monounsaturated and even some natural trans fats. (No, these trans fats have not been shown to be harmful.) These oils also contain some cholesterol.
Since most people use the terms ‘fish oil’ and ‘Omega-3’ interchangeably and take fish oil for its Omega-3 content, it may be surprising to see that only 20-30% of the oil is actually Omega-3.
Now you know what the other 70% is.
Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil
Regular fish oil is the starting raw material used to make Pharmaceutical grade fish oils. Low-Omega-3 oil is concentrated using molecular distillation to provide a product that is mostly Omega-3 and very little of anything else.
The ‘other 70%’ is removed.
In other words, more of what you want and less of what you don’t.
The only downside with pharmaceutical grade fish oil is that the naturally present Vitamins A and D are removed. With fat/sun-phobia still raging, people have become Vitamin A and D deficient. If you want your fish oil to contain Vitamins A and D, they’re not in regular fish oil either. You’ll need to take unrefined salmon, pollock or cod liver oils.
Fish Oil and Environmental Contamination
Unlike less concentrated oils, ‘pharma grade’ oils have less mercury and PCB contamination.
When IFOS compared fish oils with less than 50% Omega-3 vs fish oil with more than 50% Omega-3 for environmental contamination, both groups passed the test, but they found almost 80% more PCBs in the lower concentration oils.
The lower concentration oils had 3X as much mercury as well. If IFOS had sorted their oils into four groups – 30% Omega-3 oils, 50%, 70% and 85%+, I suspect that they would have found bigger differences between the lowest and highest Omega-3 groups.
‘Pharmaceutical grade’ is not a regulated term
The term ‘Pharmaceutical Grade’ does not have an official FDA definition. It was coined by Dr. Barry Sears of Zone Diet fame. It used to mean that the oil had 50 or 60% Omega-3, which was a lot back in the 90s. Nowadays, it’s used to refer to oils that are about 85% Omega-3 or higher.
The data for the charts above and the table below is from an analysis of a recent lot of OmegaVia (Lot# UC130542) tested at IFOS.
|Regular Fish Oil||Pharmaceutical Grade|
Fish Oil (OmegaVia)
These numbers will vary slightly from year to year, between products and types of fish.
- Sardine and Anchovy have very high levels of Omega-3 with a 3:2 ratio of EPA and DHA.
- Salmon oil tends to be a little lower in Omega-3. Salmon oil is made from ‘offal’ or parts of the fish that’s not a filet. The muscle meat of filets is not where most of the Omega-3 are stored.
- Tuna oil is high in DHA and is usually made from Tuna eyes. Eyes are full of DHA. Our ancestors were onto something with their fish head and eye ball soups.
- Pollock and Whiting oil often have a 2:1 ratio of EPA and DHA. These Alaskan fish are processed similar to Salmon.
Detailed fatty acid profile comparison:
|Regular Fish Oil||Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil (OmegaVia)|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids|
|Omega-6 Fatty Acids|
|Natural Trans Fatty Acids|
|Monounsaturatred Fatty Acids|
|Saturated Fatty Acids & Cholesterol|
Do you take pharma grade fish oil?
Do you think it’s worth the added cost?
Let us know in the comments section.