Contamination Of Omega 3 Supplements Archives

How do you get your Omega 3 fatty acids if fish is contaminated?

If you’re beginning to find out about the health benefits of Omega3 essential fatty acids you’ll find out that 2 primary Omega3 fats, namely DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), are found primarily in fish oil. And of course fish oil comes from fish. So the obvious conclusion if you wish to increase your intake of Omega3 essential fatty acids is to increase the amount of fish in your diet.

However although Omega3 oils are found in fish there are also some powerful reasons to avoid eating too much fish. One of these risks is Mercury contamination of fish, and for this reason the FDA recommend that many of us should avoid eating too much fish because of contamination with Mercury as well as other toxins.

So today lets look at Mercury contamination of fish, and consider whether fish is your best source of Omega3 fatty acids, or whether taking Omega3 supplements is a better alternative.

A 2009 study was one of the first to seriously examine Mercury levels in our marine environment and in our fish.
Mercury in Fish

The conclusions of the study were concerning. It was found that 40 percent of Mercury exposure in people in the US came from tuna consumption, and that levels of Mercury in the Pacific were rising. The study found that Mercury levels in the North Pacific were 30 percent higher in 2006 than they were in 1996.

The Mercury was present in the form of methylmercury. It was found that the Mercury came primarily from 2 sources, from Asia and also from the atmosphere. It has been known for some time that atmospheric emissions of Mercury can contaminate the oceans, and this is now being combined with other Mercury sources.

Mercury is a serious toxin and can contribute to developmental problems in the fetus and the infant and has other serious health implications as well.

It was found that the methylmercury formed in mid depth water in the ocean and sank to the bottom with the help of algae, and that small organisms then picked it up, and it was then transported up the food chain to the large predators such as sharks and tuna. And of course it is these fish that we eat.

The FDA has issued warnings in the past about Mercury contamination of fish, although it has also suggested that the negative effects of Mercury intake may be outweighed by the positive effects of the Omega3 oil content of the fish.

However it seems clear that the levels of Mercury, as well as other toxic chemicals, in our fish are rising.Fish oil and mercury

Therefore there is a bit of a conundrum for those seeking to increase their Omega3 essential fatty acid intake. Do we eat more fish and risk increasing our intake of Mercury but also increasing our intake of Omega3 fish oil, or do we eat less fish to reduce our intake of Mercury thereby reducing our intake of Omega3?

Or is there another way?

This is of course an individual decision and there are no government guidelines telling us the best way to increase our Omega3 intake. However there are some considerations which should be taken into account.

The first is this. Fish is expensive, and getting increasingly more expensive over time, and fish is a declining resource. It seems quite clear that our oceans are over fished, and only recently there has been a reduction in the legal tuna catch for a number of nations involved in the tuna industry for this reason.

For these reasons, and also because of the risks of Mercury intake, people may choose not to increase their intake of fish if there is a better way to increase their Omega3 intake safely and cost-effectively. Why diminish a declining resource when there is a better way, particularly if you don’t like eating expensive fish that much?

Certainly there is a better way. There are clean and high quality Omega 3 supplements, or what are also known as fish oil supplements, that are a cost-effective way to increase your intake of Omega3 without eating more fish. The best Omega 3 supplements are contamination free and tests show no detectable levels of Mercury at all. For this reason it is both cost effective and safe to take the best Omega3 capsules daily.

However if you like eating fish, and are prepared for the expense of eating more, together with the risks of increasing your Mercury intake, then eating fish is a good way to increase your Omega3 intake. But be extremely careful about which type of fish you choose to eat.

Of course it varies from person to person, however Omega3 supplements are the fastest-growing nutritional supplement in history, and so it would seem that the majority are voting with their wallets by buying Omega3 capsules rather than eating more fish. Fish intake levels in the US are still way too low to provide an adequate level of essential fatty acids in our diet.

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Are Norwegian fish oil capsules the cleanest fish oil supplements or are there better alternatives?

For some time there has been some focus on Norwegian fish oil capsules as many people have sought to find fish oil supplements from Norway. Lets examine why and consider whether Norwegian fish oil capsules are any better than any other fish oil capsules, or are even as good as some alternatives.

One of the reasons Norwegian fish oil supplements were so popular in the past was that became increasingly obvious that there were fish oil capsules on the market containing contaminants such as Mercury, PCBs, pesticides and heavy metals and more. It was considered that fish oil from Norway would be cleaner than fish oil sourced from other locations because the waters off Norway should be cleaner than some other waters where fish were sourced.

This for the obvious reason that Norway is a long way north and hopefully the waters off Norway should be relatively free of contamination.

Cleanliness of your fish oil is paramount. The FDA recommends that we do not eat too much fish purely because fish, in almost all cases, are contaminated and we ought not eat too much because many of these contaminants build up in our system. This is particularly true for pregnant women.

There are very many fish oil supplements available on the market. Many, including the major brand of  fish oil capsules from Norway, claim to be free of contaminants as a result of a decontamination process that their fish oils undergo and the fact that their fish are sourced from the clean pristine waters of Norway.

It is very difficult to establish to your own satisfaction exactly how true these claims are. We are certainly not saying that any brand of fish oil supplements including any from Norway are contaminated, we are merely saying that in many cases it’s very hard to know how true the claims are that the oils used in the manufacture of the capsules are contamination free other than the claims made that this is the case.

We always like to see some independent evidence of any of the claims made about cleanliness. It may be entirely true that Norwegian fishoils are cleaner than others however we would like to see, on the website of any fish oil supplement manufacturer, some evidence of this.
Fish oil capsules

For example where the fish oils used in the manufacture of supplements are independently tested by recognized laboratories we would like to see the Certificate of Analysis that is produced by that laboratory. If the Certificate of Analysis of the oils used is published then you can see for yourself what the results of the testing are.

We have spent some time looking around the website of the manufacturer of the major branded Norwegian fish oil, Carlson’s. Whilst probably excellent Omega 3 supplements the website for Carlson’s Norwegian fish oil supplements does not seem to have any Certificate of Analysis published for the benefit of users despite claims that these tests have been done.

Of course this may be there and hard to find, we have not been able to find one and so if we cannot other visitors probably cannot as well, if it exists. And this certainly doesn’t prove that their supplements are contaminated, just that we like to see evidence.

Our preferred brand of fish oil is that produced by Xtend Life. We have written here before why we prefer Xtend Life Omega 3 supplements, including that they specify quite clearly on their website where the fish comes from that is used to produce the fish oil, how it is processed, what process is used to decontaminate the fish oil and also because they publish each Certificate of Analysis produced by two independent laboratories as evidence of the fact that their fish oils are entirely clean.

The reason why so many people in the past preferred Norwegian fish oil supplements is because Norwegian waters are considered to be cleaner than those where fish are regularly caught for fish oil supplements, including the north Atlantic which is particularly contaminated.

The fish used by Xtend Life for their Omega3 capsules are not from Norway, rather they are from the waters in the Southern Ocean south of New Zealand. Considering the world map we consider it far more likely that fish from the Southern Ocean between New Zealand and Antarctica are sourced from waters that are far more likely to be pristine and clean than the waters off Norway.

There is no doubt that contamination of fish oils used in fish oil supplements is a concern. There are good reasons for people to be worried about the cleanliness of their fish oil supplements and for this reason so many people have sought to buy fish oil supplements using fish sourced from clean water.

However the best Omega 3 supplements and the cleanest Omega 3 supplements are now manufactured from fish oil from fish caught near Antarctica. This must be as clean and most probably cleaner than fish caught in the waters of Norway. Norwegian fish oil capsules were probably the cleanest Omega 3 supplements in the past, but this may no longer be the case.

Norwegian fish oil supplements are probably excellent supplements, however if you are concerned more about the cleanliness of your supplements then supplements made from fish from the southern ocean should be considered.

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Fish Oil purity is perhaps one of the most important factors in choosing Omega 3 supplements.

If you’re seriously interested in improving your health one of the best things you can do, along with increasing your exercise levels and eating a better diet generally, is to start taking Omega 3 supplements.

We won’t go into all the health benefits of Omega 3 supplementation because we talk about these benefits elsewhere on our website. Today we want to look at the purity of fish oil found in Omega 3 supplements. It’s sad to say but it’s an essential issue to consider when buying fish oil supplements.

Fish are generally contaminated with toxins, in particular mercury, PCBs, dioxins and chlordane. These are chemicals that come from people, they are not naturally found in the ocean, but we put them there due to our activities. Fish accumulate these toxins in their flesh and when we eat the fish we accumulate them too.

These impurities are only present in small amounts, but over time, if you eat a lot of fish, they can build up. That’s why the FDA  has issued warnings about eating too much fish, especially top of the food chain fish.

And if fish oil is used for Omega 3 supplements, as it is, then these toxins can end up in your supplements. Again, very small amounts, but if you take them every day??

There have been instances of fish oil supplements withdrawn for issues of Omega 3 purity, or lack thereof.

So not unreasonably one of the things you need to be concerned with is you’re starting your Omega 3 journey is fish oil purity and mercury levels and levels of other toxins in your supplements. Omega 3 purity is something you must consider seriously.

For these reasons standards have been developed to assess fish oil purity levels. The first was one developed at the University of Guelph in Canada. These are called the International  Fish Oil Standards (IFOS). Along with the international Fish Oil Standard there is others as well.

There are now 4 recognized international standards for fish oil, and we reproduce a table below showing the different levels of contamination which is accepted by the different standards. The other 3 are the from the Council For Responsible Nutrition (CFRN), the European Pharmacopoeia and the Norwegian Medicinal Standard.

None of these are binding on companies producing fish oil supplements, each company can choose to comply or not. And of course the Omega 3 manufacturers can also choose which fish oil standards to comply with if any, as the levels vary for acceptable purity.

Here’s the different standards set out in a table. Note that we include the standards that are set by Xtend Life, who make what we consider is by far the best fish oil capsules on the market. They believe that the current standards are are a little too generous, and prefer to observe their own, stricter, standards.

Toxin Xtend Life International Fish Oil Standards Council For Responsible Nutrition European
Arsenic (ppb) 50 100 100 100 100
Cadmium (ppb) 10 100 100 100 100
Mercury (ppb) 10 100 100 100 100
Lead (ppb) 50 100 100 100 100
Total PCBs (ppt) 5 45 90 N/A N/A
Total Dioxins &
Furans (ppt)
0.5 1 2 2 2

>> N/A means ‘Not Available’
>> ppb means part per billion and ppt means parts per trillion
>> IFOS although included in the table is not a recognized entity. It is a private organization and it is claimed by some ‘observers’ that it was established for the benefit of a few marketers of fish oil.

You can clearly see that the levels of purity that are set by Xtend Life for it’s own supplements are dramatically stricter than the others.

In particular they specify a level for mercury that is 10 times lower than the other “official” standards for fish oil purity. You can also see that their purity levels are much lower for other contaminants too.

Now of course it’s tempting to think that maybe they tell us they maintain those levels of Omega 3 purity, but in reality they don’t really. How do we really KNOW that they are.

Here’s how you know. They do something that is quite unusual, maybe even unique, in the industry. They have every batch if fish oil they use independently tested, by two separate independent labs, not their own lab.

Then they publish the result, in what is called a Certificate Of Analysis (COA) on their website. Here’s a copy of their COA showing no detectable contaminants at all. (Below)

Try finding a COA for other brands of fish oil supplements, and try finding out who tests their fish oils.

Fish Oil Purity
Omega 3 Purity

What more can we say.

So remember, fish oil purity is really quite a serious matter. When choosing fish oil supplements you’ve got to go way beyond price to do a serious comparison.

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Should you eat fish to get your Omega3 fatty acids? Isn’t fish contaminated with Mercury and dangerous?

Once you find out how important Omega 3 fatty acids are to so many areas of your health, the next question you need to answer is how do you get your Omega 3 fats?

We’ve pointed out before that Omega 3 fats are most prevalent in fish, that there are plant sources like flax seeds but they don’t have the optimum types, or amounts, of Omega 3 fats that you need.

However although it sounds good getting your Omega3 fatty acids through eating fish there is a problem. You see most, pretty much all, fish is contaminated with various chemicals that we, human beings, in the main, have put into their ocean.

One of the biggest worries is Mercury contamination of fish. According to the EPA there is Mercury contamination in all fish.OMercury in fish

Now of course Mercury isn’t something that you want in your body, and your body doesn’t get rid of it all that easily. It’s a particular problem for children.

However the EPA doesn’t recommend that you eliminate all fish from your diet. Fish is healthy, in small quantities, and if you follow some simple guidelines you should be ok eating it. Just don’t eat too much.

It’s ok to eat around 2 serves of fish a week. However for children or pregnant women there’s some more things to think about, because Mercury is more of a risk to children or developing fetuses.

So for pregnant women, or children, you ought to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. These are high in mercury. And canned salmon has also carried a warning for pregnant women.

Young children, particularly those 5 and under, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of Mercury. The same applies to pregnant women who are, obviously, carrying a child.

If you’re worried about your Mercury levels, possibly because you’ve been eating a relatively high level of fish most at risk of Mercury contamination, it’s quite possible to get your mercury levels tested. If you go to your doctor and you ask for a Mercury test he can organise that test for you.

To find out more about Mercury contamination visit this consumer guide to the mercury levels in various types of fish.

And you can also do a self test to determine your own Mercury levels on this page, just scroll down a little to find their self Mercury test.

If your mercury levels are shown to be too high you may well be advised by your doctor to delay any pregnancy until tests show that your mercury levels have dropped.

But don’t eliminate all fish from your diet just because you’re worried about Mercury. If you like fish you can eat it, sensibly and in relatively small quantities.

But of course if you understand the importance of Omega3 fatty acids in your diet you need a regular supply of fish oil. Preferable a daily supply. And there is the rub. You see for most of us ordinary people eating fish regularly is really expensive. Fish is getting more and more expensive all the time, and as it gets scarcer it gets more expensive.

And although the EPA says it’s ok to eat it, if you’re eating fish to get your Omega3 then there is a better way. Of course if you just love fish then go for it.

But there is still mercury in fish, albeit in small amounts, and there is a solution to getting your Omega3 that doesn’t involve eating fish, that is cheaper than buying fish a couple of times a week, and overcomes the problem with mercury contamination.

It’s using Omega3 fatty acid supplements. These contain fish oil, but the very best fish oil supplements source the cleanest fish in the ocean and then put it through an extremely robust molecular distillation process that means that levels of mercury, as well as other common contaminants of fish oil, are undetectable.

But be aware that although many fish oil supplements claim to be contamination free, there are varying standards, none binding, and not all fish oil supplements are truly contamination free.

But the best fish oil supplements are.

So unless you really love fish, if you’re just eating it for the Omega3 fatty acids it contain, you’re better off using the best fish oil supplements on the market. Use them daily to get your good fats. It’s cheaper than eating fish, and you aren’t getting any mercury at all.
But if you love fish eat it, just be careful.

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