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Is There Something Fishy About Your Fish Oil? Consumer Reports Says Yes

Tim Boyer's picture
Kirkland Signature fish oil

In the January 2012 issue of Consumer Reports, analysts report their findings of claims made by several major manufacturers of fish oil pills. Consumer Reports' findings reveal that not all fish oil pill makers meet quality standards. Furthermore, in a cost comparison analysis of those that do meet quality standards, consumers can spend more than three times the cost between comparable brands for 1000 mg of omega-3.

Fish oil pill sales are steadily increasing in America as a growing, aging population of Baby Boomers and health conscious individuals seek a source of omega-3 fatty acids to add to their diet. Fears of mercury contamination or doses of omega-3 higher than can be achieved from eating fish alone, have made fish oil pills a popular nutritional supplement.

As part of their consumer protection services, Consumer Reports decided to take a look at several popular brands of fish oil pills to see if there was anything “fishy” about manufacturer claims. Samples of the brands tested were purchased from New York-area stores, and their contents analyzed for contaminants and concentrations of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

What the analysts found was that all brands possessed their labeled amounts of EPA and DHA and that all brands did not exceed the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) limits for mercury, lead, dioxins or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

However, what they did find was that some brands have higher levels of PCBs than other brands and that if the brands were subject to California Proposition 65, then there is a difference in quality between brands.

Proposition 65 is the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 that requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. This information would allow Californians to make informed decisions about protecting themselves from exposure to harmful chemicals.

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Another finding was that two samples of the Kirkland Signature brand of fish oil pills failed a USP disintegration test for an enteric coating that was to delay dissolving of the pill until it reached the small intestine. This was discovered by the analysts in spite of packaging claims that Kirkland Signature fish pills were “USP verified.”

Cost comparison between brands that met quality standards reveals that there is a significant cost per 1000 milligrams difference between brands. A summary of the brands regarding their quality standard rating and cost comparison is listed below.

Fish Oil That Meets Quality Standards
Spring Valley—17¢ per 1000 mg
Finest Natural—23¢ per 1000 mg
Walgreens Concentrate—25¢ per 1000 mg
Barlean’s Organic Oils—26¢ per 1000 mg
Nature Made—28¢ per 1000 mg
The Vitamin Shoppe—32¢ per 1000 mg
Carlson Super Omega-3—46¢ per 1000 mg
Norwegian Gold—47¢ per 1000 mg
Nature’s Way—64¢ per 1000 mg

Did Not Meet Enteric-Coating Claim
Kirkland Signature—9¢ per 1000 mg

Samples Measured Above Calif. PCB Limits
CVS Natural—19¢ per 1000 mg
Sundown Naturals—29¢ per 1000 mg
Nature’s Bounty Odorless—36¢ per 1000 mg
GNC Triple Organic—37¢ per 1000 mg

Omega-3 fish oil supplements are an important part of maintaining good health. However, as Consumer Reports has shown so many times, the caveat “buyer beware” is just as critical toward buying a vacuum cleaner as it is in buying nutritional products. If you ever suspect that there is something fishy about your fish oil pill or with any other supplement, then empower yourself and become an informed consumer where health and wealth go hand in hand.
Source: Consumer Reports Jan. 2012

Image source of Kirkland Signature fish oil: Product Description