Are Your Fish Oil Supplements Causing More Harm Than Good?

Written by Tim Skwiat

Problems with Most Fish Oil Supplements

A recent consumer survey conducted for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) found omega-3 supplements (such as fish oil supplements) are the sixth most popular category of dietary supplements. This trails only multivitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, and B vitamins.1 A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported sales of fish oils and omega-3 steadily increased from $425 million to $1.043 billion from 2007 to 2012 in the United States. That’s a big jump!

Why are omega-3s, in particular EPA and DHA, so popular? Simply put, EPA and DHA are nutrition all-stars well-known for supporting:

  • Heart health2–4
  • Brain health, cognitive function, and mood5–10
  • Eye health and vision11–13
  • Skin health14,15
  • Immune function16
  • Metabolic function and body composition17–19
  • A healthy inflammatory response20

Recent research has shown they may also have anti-aging properties.21–23 Several recent studies have even shown these super fats can boost metabolic rate, increase lean body mass, and boost fat burning to boot.17

The trouble is, much like vitamins and minerals, these healthy fats are essential. That is, the body needs them yet cannot produce them on its own. So, you must get them through food, supplementation, or a combination of the two.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume at least 500 mg/day of EPA and DHA, the two most prominent omega-3s. Often, more is better and recommended. Unfortunately, the average person consumes only about a quarter of that amount (around 135 mg/day).24,25 You see, there are very few foods with high concentrations of these two all-star fats. The main dietary source being cold-water fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel) and other seafood (e.g., oysters, mussels).

With all that in mind, supplementing with DHA and EPA is a no-brainer. But, not all fish oil supplements are created equal. There are some serious issues with most products on the market. Here are 4 of the most common problems.

4 Common Problems with Fish Oil Supplements

Problem 1: Does Your Fish Oil Contain the Amounts Claimed

One common problem with omega-3 supplements is they don’t contain the amount of active ingredients (EPA and DHA) listed on the label.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, for example, evaluated the quality and content of 32 popular fish oil supplements. Shockingly, the researchers found less than 10% contained the amounts of EPA and DHA listed on the label. Even more jaw-dropping, most (69%) contained less than two-thirds of the amounts claimed on the label.26

Obviously, you can’t reap the expected benefits if your fish oil supplements are under-delivering. Not only that, you’re getting ripped off!

Problem 2: Is Your Fish Oil Contaminated?

Believe it or not, many fish oil supplements are contaminated with heavy metals or other dangerous toxins (such as PCBs, dioxins, furans, and dioxin-like PCBs) that can be harmful to your health. These environmental contaminants accumulate in the fatty tissues of fish. That means the fish oils may contain excessive concentrations.

That’s no joke. Research suggests these contaminants can have negative effects. Many of which outweigh the potential health benefits of omega-3s. For instance, fish contain a specific form of mercury called methylmercury. This neurotoxin causes brain and nervous system damage. It’s also toxic to the kidneys, liver, and heart. Methylmercury affects people of ALL ages and can lead to:

  • Loss of peripheral vision or blurred vision
  • Loss of hearing
  • Numbness, burning, and tingling (“pins and needles”) feelings in the hands, feet, and around the mouth
  • Lack of coordination of movements
  • Impairment of speech, hearing, and walking
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Loss of memory
  • Tremors
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headaches

Mercury is just one example. There are other potentially health-damaging toxins common in fish oils, including several persistent organic pollutants. For instance, PCBs can lead to endocrine, neurobehavioral, and developmental disruption.27

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Problem 3: How Fresh is Your Fish Oil?

Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated fats that are very delicate and susceptible to oxidation, which occurs when unsaturated fats are exposed to oxygen, heat, and light. This leads to the production of free radicals and harmful compounds, as well as rancidification. Which results in an unpleasant smell and taste.

Because fish oils are prone to oxidation and spoiling, they can quickly turn rancid. This happens if the supplement was not formulated adequately, not handled properly during manufacturing, or stored in unsuitable conditions (e.g., excessive heat or humidity). Unfortunately, most companies don’t test for rancidity or take the additional steps necessary to protect these delicate oils.

In one study on the quality of popular fish oil supplements, researchers found the vast majority exceeded recommended levels of oxidation markers.26 In fact, 83% of the samples tested exceeded recommended levels for peroxide values (PV), an indicator of freshness. The lower the PV, the fresher the oil.

If you’ve ever experienced the embarrassment of fish burps or a downright disgusting fishy aftertaste when using a fish oil supplement, there’s a good chance your supplement had oxidized, spoiled, and gone rancid. Yuck!

Problem 4: Does Your Fish Oil Contain the Right Blend of DHA and EPA?

Most people tend to refer to the two omega-3 fats DHA and EPA as one and the same. Many believe they are interchangeable and provide similar health benefits. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, DHA and EPA each have very specific functions and offer unique and distinct health benefits.

For instance, EPA levels seem to be closely correlated to mood. Studies have shown that supplementation with EPA can help boost feelings of wellbeing and help temper aggression.28,29

DHA, on the other hand, generally exceeds EPA by 5- to 30-fold in most tissues of the body.30 In fact, it’s the most predominant fatty acid in the brain and eye tissue, where it is several HUNDRED-fold more abundant than EPA. Along those lines, DHA has been shown to improve memory and reaction time.9 DHA has also been found to elevate levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This important growth factor for the brain and central nervous system plays a key role in cognitive function, mood, and mental health.31

DHA may also be more effective than EPA at improving markers of heart health. And recent research shows DHA appears to be superior to EPA when it comes to promoting a healthy inflammatory response.20,32,33 One particularly nifty attribute of DHA is that the body can convert it, on an as-needed basis, to EPA. However, the opposite is NOT true—the body cannot convert EPA to DHA.30

Traditionally, the overwhelming majority of fish oil supplements contain predominantly EPA.Yet as you can see, emerging scientific research suggests DHA may have more profound benefits.

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Is Something Fishy with Your Fish Oil!?

When you’re searching for a fish oil supplement, you have many options, but don’t be fooled. They’re NOT all created equal. Who can you TRUST? The unfortunate reality is that the market is flooded with untested fish oils. Oils that have gone rancid, are contaminated with harmful heavy metals and toxins, don’t contain the amount of active ingredients listed on the label, and don’t provide the optimal amounts of DHA and EPA.

That’s exactly why we developed OmegaKrill 5X, which has earned the prestigious 5-STAR rating from the International Fish Oil Standards program (IFOS), the only third-party fish oil testing and certification program that sets the world’s highest standards for potency, safety, and freshness. And while the majority of fish oil supplements contain mostly EPA, OmegaKrill 5X contains substantially more DHA, which is critical for heart, brain, and eye health and for supporting healthy levels of inflammation.

What’s more, it’s formulated with antioxidants, including astaxanthin, to combat free radicals and prevent rancidity. That means no fish burps or gross fishy aftertaste. Simply put, OmegaKrill 5X is a best-in-class fish and krill oil supplement that sets the bar for QUALITY.

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References

  • 1. Council for Responsible Nutrition. CRN 2016 Annual Survey on Dietary Supplements. https://www.crnusa.org/resources/crn-2016-annual-survey-dietary-supplements. Accessed June 13, 2017.
  • 2. Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2002;106(21):2747-2757. doi:10.1161/01.CIR.0000038493.65177.94.
  • 3. Bradberry JC, Hilleman DE. Overview of omega-3 fatty acid therapies. Pharm Ther. 2013;38(11):681-691.
  • 4. Lee JH, O’Keefe JH, Lavie CJ, Marchioli R, Harris WS. Omega-3 fatty acids for cardioprotection. Mayo Clin Proc. 2008;83(3):324-332. doi:10.4065/83.3.324.
  • 5. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol. 2003;60(7):940-946. doi:10.1001/archneur.60.7.940.
  • 6. Hibbeln JR, Ferguson TA, Blasbalg TL. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies in neurodevelopment, aggression and autonomic dysregulation: opportunities for intervention. Int Rev Psychiatry Abingdon Engl. 2006;18(2):107-118. doi:10.1080/09540260600582967.
  • 7. Parker G, Gibson NA, Brotchie H, Heruc G, Rees A-M, Hadzi-Pavlovic D. Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 2006;163(6):969-978. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.6.969.
  • 8. Osher Y, Belmaker RH. Omega-3 fatty acids in depression: a review of three studies. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2009;15(2):128-133.
  • 9. Stonehouse W, Conlon CA, Podd J, et al. DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(5):1134-1143. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.053371.
  • 10. Witte AV, Kerti L, Hermannstädter HM, et al. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids improve brain function and structure in older adults. Cereb Cortex N Y N 1991. 2014;24(11):3059-3068. doi:10.1093/cercor/bht163.
  • 11. SanGiovanni JP, Chew EY. The role of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in health and disease of the retina. Prog Retin Eye Res. 2005;24(1):87-138. doi:10.1016/j.preteyeres.2004.06.002.
  • 12. Stough C, Downey L, Silber B, et al. The effects of 90-day supplementation with the omega-3 essential fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) on cognitive function and visual acuity in a healthy aging population. Neurobiol Aging. 2012;33(4):824.e1-3. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2011.03.019.
  • 13. McCusker MM, Durrani K, Payette MJ, Suchecki J. An eye on nutrition: The role of vitamins, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants in age-related macular degeneration, dry eye syndrome, and cataract. Clin Dermatol. 2016;34(2):276-285. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2015.11.009.
  • 14. Cosgrove MC, Franco OH, Granger SP, Murray PG, Mayes AE. Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(4):1225-1231.
  • 15. Schagen SK, Zampeli VA, Makrantonaki E, Zouboulis CC. Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):298-307. doi:10.4161/derm.22876.
  • 16. Gurzell EA, Teague H, Harris M, Clinthorne J, Shaikh SR, Fenton JI. DHA-enriched fish oil targets B cell lipid microdomains and enhances ex vivo and in vivo B cell function. J Leukoc Biol. 2013;93(4):463-470. doi:10.1189/jlb.0812394.
  • 17. Logan SL, Spriet LL. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for 12 weeks increases resting and exercise metabolic rate in healthy community-dwelling older females. PLOS ONE. 2015;10(12):e0144828. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144828.
  • 18. Abbott KA, Burrows TL, Thota RN, Acharya S, Garg ML. Do ω-3 PUFAs affect insulin resistance in a sex-specific manner? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;104(5):1470-1484. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.138172.
  • 19. Jeromson S, Gallagher I, Galloway S, Hamilton D. Omega-3 fatty acids and skeletal muscle health. Mar Drugs. 2015;13(12):6977-7004. doi:10.3390/md13116977.
  • 20. Allaire J, Couture P, Charest A, et al. DHA is more potent than EPA in attenuating cardiometabolic risk in men and women: a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. FASEB J. 2016;30(1 Supplement):130.1-130.1.
  • 21. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Epel ES, Belury MA, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2013;28:16-24. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2012.09.004.
  • 22. Farzaneh-Far R, Lin J, Epel ES, Harris WS, Blackburn EH, Whooley MA. Association of marine omega-3 fatty acid levels with telomeric aging in patients with coronary heart disease. JAMA. 2010;303(3):250-257. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.2008.
  • 23. Farzaneh-Far R, Lin J, Epel E, Lapham K, Blackburn E, Whooley MA. Telomere length trajectory and its determinants in persons with coronary artery disease: longitudinal findings from the heart and soul study. PloS One. 2010;5(1):e8612. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008612.
  • 24. Kris-Etherton PM, Grieger JA, Etherton TD. Dietary reference intakes for DHA and EPA. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2009;81(2-3):99-104. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2009.05.011.
  • 25. Harris WS, Mozaffarian D, Lefevre M, et al. Towards establishing dietary reference intakes for eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids. J Nutr. 2009;139(4):804S-819S. doi:10.3945/jn.108.101329.
  • 26. Albert BB, Derraik JGB, Cameron-Smith D, et al. Fish oil supplements in New Zealand are highly oxidised and do not meet label content of n-3 PUFA. Sci Rep. 2015;5. doi:10.1038/srep07928.
  • 27. Martí M, Ortiz X, Gasser M, Martí R, Montaña MJ, Díaz-Ferrero J. Persistent organic pollutants (PCDD/Fs, dioxin-like PCBs, marker PCBs, and PBDEs) in health supplements on the Spanish market. Chemosphere. 2010;78(10):1256-1262. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2009.12.038.
  • 28. Martins JG. EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009;28(5):525-542.
  • 29. Logan AC. Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: a primer for the mental health professional. Lipids Health Dis. 2004;3:25. doi:10.1186/1476-511X-3-25.
  • 30. Arterburn LM, Hall EB, Oken H. Distribution, interconversion, and dose response of n-3 fatty acids in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6 Suppl):1467S-1476S.
  • 31. Matsuoka Y, Nishi D, Yonemoto N, Hamazaki K, Hamazaki T, Hashimoto K. Potential role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in omega–3 fatty acid supplementation to prevent posttraumatic distress after accidental injury: an open-label pilot study. Psychother Psychosom. 2011;80(5):310-312. doi:10.1159/000322980.
  • 32. Buckley R, Shewring B, Turner R, Yaqoob P, Minihane AM. Circulating triacylglycerol and apoE levels in response to EPA and docosahexaenoic acid supplementation in adult human subjects. Br J Nutr. 2004;92(3):477-483.
  • 33. Jacobson TA, Glickstein SB, Rowe JD, Soni PN. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and other lipids: a review. J Clin Lipidol. 2012;6(1):5-18. doi:10.1016/j.jacl.2011.10.018.
  • Lawrence (Larry) Taylor

    You indicate that you are concerned about health of families. You mention, I should never eat this type of fish EVER. If the subject is that important, WHY do you NOT NAME the dangerous fish ???. I have mentioned on two occasions that the icons on left side of screen, make it most difficult to read,

    • Cristina

      Hi Larry. Please receive my most sincere apologies for this matter, and know that I am looking into the issue.

      With that being said, I want to personally apologize that the valuable information got lost in the delivery. Rest assured we will address the matter internally, but we also want to make sure we have done everything in our hands to take care of you.

      The 4 fish to avoid are:

      1. Farm-raised salmon
      2. Farm-raised tilapia
      3. Snapper
      4. Tuna

      If you would like to discuss these further, or if you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to let me know.

      I look forward to chatting with you and am working on finding a way to resolve your other issues.