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Not all fish oils are created equal

27 Aug 2015

Dr Thomas eclectic oil was made of tar, turpentine, camphor and fish oil. It was said to treat toothache, backache, earache, lameness, coughs, hoarseness, colds, sore throat, and burns – I presume on children as well!

Nowadays, research based on traditional practice, has shown that the use of omega’s 3, 6 and 9 can be of positive benefit to our health.

The 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey showed that 48% of adults used supplements in the year prior to the study, with 31% being regular users. Omega-3 products are considered one of the most popular, with consumers taking fish oil supplements because it has shown promising effects of lowering risk of heart disease and inflammation, and improving brain power. The question is what is the best one to take?

As you can walk into any pharmacy, health food store or herbal retailer and there will be fish oils on sale. The labels all similar in their promises but why is there such a difference in price?

When taking a fish oil supplement, it is not only important to opt for a concentrated, highly-purified fish oil that will deliver clinical results, but also one that uses fish sourced from eco-friendly and sustainable fishing practices to support our marine habitat for the future.

Buyers need to know whether the amounts of fatty acids in the products are as claimed on the label, and by what rate they may have degraded before sale. A study by University of Auckland researchers earlier this year revealed that of 36 fish oil products sold in Auckland and marketed online, contained considerably less of the vital omega-3 fatty acids claimed by their labels. The products contained an average of just 68 per cent of the claimed content - and more than two thirds of supplements tested contained less than 67 per cent.

They found that over half had broken down to a level higher than the recommended limit - and this had nothing to do with the best-before date, price, or country they came from. What’s more the researchers found only 8% were in line with international recommendations. Unfortunately the key properties in the supplements are highly fragile and can break down on exposure with air, light or heat.

It would be very helpful if there were stringent regulations guaranteeing the purity of the product and what percentage is expected to degrade, but currently we dont. This means that the company who is providing the fish oil does not have to test the batches for oxidisation and therapeutic availability after so many months of being on the shelves. Those that do, will naturally have a higher price tag, and rightly so. Companies that can churn fish oils out by the 1000 into big buckets for $19.95 possibly don’t.

Purity is also a factor. The heavy metals mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic are all contaminants that can be found in fish oils. Fish, particularly larger species, can absorb these heavy metal contaminants from their polluted environments. Heavy metal contaminants can be harmful for health, which is why it is important you choose purified fish oils. There are a few companies which pride themselves as having pure product as they are batch tested and come from trusted sources from ecologically sound fishing practices. Again, price will reflect quality.

Lastly, I often get asked this question! What IS the difference between krill and fish oil? Is one better than the other? Although both krill oil and fish oil are excellent sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids, there are differences between the two that warrant consideration.

Krill Oil:
Contains EPA, DHA, phospholipids, astaxanthin and vitamins A and E. Phospholipids improve the bioavailability of the omega-3 fatty acids. Levels of EPA and DHA are much lower than that of fish oils per gram.
Research suggests that krill oil may be effective for lowering LDL and increasing HDL cholesterol levels. Therefore in cases of high cholesterol krill oil would be more indicated than fish oil.

Fish Oil:
Contains high doses of EPA and DHA.
Research suggests that fish oil may be effective for decreasing inflammation and symptoms of pain and swelling associated with arthritis. Fish oil also seems to be more beneficial for lowering total triglyceride levels than krill oil. Therefore in cases of arthritis or high levels of triglycerides fish oil is more indicated than krill oil.

So there you go! Fish is great to eat too but if you don’t like it or can’t afford to eat it as frequently as you want to, consider fish oils (just ask us first!)

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