With the growing awareness of Omega 3 fatty acids and their health benefits, more and more people have now started taking fish oil supplements regularly. Fish oil, after all, is the hands down best source of these beneficial fats. And of all these supplements, a pharmaceutical grade fish oil would clearly be the one to look for – or would it?
Here’s the fact supplement manufacturers do not want you to know about – There’s no such thing as a pharmaceutical grade fish oil!
The US Pharmacopeia doesn’t have any set specifications that regulate the purity levels of any fish oil supplement. Manufacturers are free to choose how pure they want their oil to be, and can then sell it with impunity in the market. There’s no stopping them even if their oil contains significant levels of contaminants like Lead, Mercury and PCBs.
Fortunately, there are some private organizations that have come up with specified purity levels, which many quality supplement manufacturers choose to follow. The IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) is the most popular monograph, supplement companies follow. It works like this – the company would submit their fish oil to IFOS for testing, they would evaluate the contamination and oxidation levels in the oil and prepare a report of their findings.
Usually, the companies whose supplements pass the IFOS standards, call their oil to be a pharmaceutical grade fish oil.
However, if your omega 3 supplement hasn’t been IFOS verified, that doesn’t mean it’s not pure. It could have been tested according to other purity standards like the CRN (Council for Responsible Nutrition), European Pharmacopoeia or the Norwegian Medicinal Standard.
Some companies – Xtend Life for example – choose to follow their own standards of purity that are even stricter than any of these organizations. Here’s a comparative chart where you can see exactly what level of purity you can expect in an oil tested according to these standards.
At the end of the day, it’s the purity of the oil that really matters – irrespective of the name of the standards it follows. Even a private set of standards is good enough provided a COA (Certificate of Testing) is available that proves the oil has been tested and passed by independent laboratories.
What else to look for
The purity of the oil is obviously a critical point when you’re choosing a supplement. However, there are other factors too that you need to consider before choosing any particular brand.
The quantity of omega 3 fats is very important. Unless the oil can give you at least 1000mg omega 3 in a day’s serving, it won’t be enough to provide all the health benefits possible. Also, the oil needs to have the right balance of DHA and EPA omega 3 fats for best results. Ideally, the DHA content should be 500+ mg and EPA should be 250+ mg. This is the optimal mix recommended as per latest research and studies which have shown DHA to be more important for the brain, nervous system and the eyes.
So pharmaceutical grade fish oil or not, choose a supplement that contains purified oil with the right levels of omega 3 inside. That’s as simple as it gets.