Taking fish oil pills is good for you. Or is it?

There has been much discussion lately about whether taking fish oil pills can be dangerous to your health. But why in the world could fish oil supplements be dangerous, aren’t essential fatty acids meant to be good for your health?

There is ample evidence that taking Omega 3 supplements containing fish oil, which is high in the essential fatty acids known as DHA and EPA, is good for your health. The health benefits of essential fatty acid supplementation are well recognized and such organizations as the American Heart Association recommends that we all have minimum levels of intake of essential fatty acids, because doing so attracts a wide range of heart health benefits.

Of course we can do that by eating plenty of oily fish but for most of us this means taking fish oil pills.PCBs in fish oil

And as well as the beneficial effects of essential fatty acid supplementation to the heart there is also a wide range of beneficial health effects more generally. In fact the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids go on and on.

So why could taking fish oil pills be dangerous to your health? The debate raging over the last few days is about the presence of PCBs in fish oil supplements.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) are industrial chemicals that are man made. They have been linked to various types of environmental contamination as well as to a range of health risks to people who consume foods containing PCBs. They are considered to be carcinogenic and can also lead to reproductive toxicity and are extremely persistent, meaning that they do not break down in the environment and that they can make their way up the food chain.

This has been well-known for quite some time and the manufacture of PCBs has been banned in the US for around 30 years.
PCBs in fish oil debate

The reason that there is a current discussion about PCBs in omega 3 fish oil pills is that a lawsuit has recently been launched against some manufacturers of fish oil supplements alleging that contrary to the provisions of Proposition 65 under California law they have failed to alert the public to the risks of PCBs in their products. The law requires that consumers be warned where the fish oil supplements contain levels of PCBs in excess of a prescribed amount.

Although not all brands of fish oil capsules have been tested a number have and there is a wide discrepancy between different brands of omega-3 fish oil pills in the levels of PCBs discovered. Some brands had significantly higher levels than others.

Under proposition 65 there is a recommended maximum level for PCBs as a cancer risk but the risks of PCBs to reproductive toxicity are less well understood and there is no maximum levels set.

Therefore it would seem to make sense, when consumers are seeking to buy omega 3 fish oil supplements, that they seek to buy the supplements with the lowest level of PCB contamination. This seems to be the object of the lawsuit and in the backgrounder it states that “the only guideline consumers can follow is that less is safer”. This would make sense.

How do you determine the level of PCBs found in your essential fatty acid supplements? If you’re looking to buy high quality Omega 3 fatty acids supplements you should be able to find a Certificate of Analysis or the fish oil used in the capsules, which would commonly be available on the website, and it should specify the level of PCBs detected on testing.

A different question is how much PCBs are acceptable. There are different organizations offering different maximum levels of PCBs to be found in fish oil pills.

The testing that led to the court action has found significant levels of PCBs in a number of different brands of fish oil pills.

This suggests to us that as well as being the best fish oil supplements on the market they also have an extremely low level of PCBs present under current methods of scientific testing, substantially lower than the brands tested, and perhaps none at all.

However to satisfy yourself should visit the website of Xtend Life and read their information about the cleanliness of their fish oil supplements yourself. And you will see their explanation on that page of why their test results are so clean.

So to summarize, there are clear benefits of fish oil supplementation. There is little doubt about that. However there can also be risks of contamination from PCBs (and other toxins too) in some brands, and it pays to do your research to find out the cleanest fish oil pills on the market.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are clear fish oil supplementation benefits, there is now little doubt about that. Don’t let the current controversy about PCBs convince you that you should stop taking fish oil pills. Just make sure that your essential fatty acids don’t come with some unwanted additions.

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