Fish Oil Isn’t Fish Oil.

Written by Changing Habits

May 9, 2012

I have always been about real foods. Even supplements need to be made from real food, so fish oil came under the category as a supplement that comes from a food source.  As always I assumed ethics in the industry, but as the industry has grown the ethics for this product have gone in the opposite direction.  The majority of fish oils ain’t fish oil anymore.  Fish oils now have more additives than a luxury car, including flavours, colours, sweeteners, ultra refining processes, glycerin, gelatin, man-made antioxidants, refined soybean oil, sorbitol, PCB’s, polysorbate, mercury and the list goes on.  Not all fish oils contain all of these but many contain a number of them depending on what brand you purchase.  The problem is that supplement companies do not have to state all the ingredients.

I went to my local pharmacy to do some research.  I found ten different brands of fish oil, not one was upfront with what was in the fish oil.  They made vague statements such as fish oil – natural (what’s that?), they were not keen to tell you the source, that is; what fish it was or what ocean or farm it came from.  The wording was vague with empty marketing claims like; best, extra distilled, finest, high potency, highest quality, natural, super-distilled, pharmaceutical grade, professional grade, pure, purest, purified, mercury tested, ultra-pure, marine lipids, extra strength and enteric coated.  The ‘mercury tested’ one really got me, as yes it has been tested for mercury but it didn’t say that it had passed the test.
None of the packages talked about the extraction process, was it, cold, centrifuged, solvent extracted, squeezed or other.


Flavourings in Fish Oils


My first doubt about fish oils came around 2 years ago, I was at a talk by a prominent health advocate, he was selling what he called the best fish oil in the world.  I did what I always do and I looked at the ingredients.  It may be a great fish oil but why would you put a lime flavour into the oil?  Let me just remind you what flavour is.  Flavours (natural and artificial or nature identical) are made in chemical laboratories, usually they are made up of 48 chemicals including solvents and diacetyl, chemicals linked to health problems for the past 15 years.  So I asked the health advocate why he put flavour into the fish oil, why not use a natural essential lime oil?  He told me there was no difference between the two.  I said to him that I would send him the information and references to show there was a very big difference.  And I did.  All I wanted to do was inform him so he could make a change for the better.  I never heard from him and he still hasn’t taken the flavour out of his ingredient list.  I also noticed that he has started to sell the fish oil in gel caps.  I’ll discuss what is in gel caps so you understand why I’m puzzled about this progression from free oil to encapsulated.
What I realised is that many people who run health food and supplement businesses may be business men and women but perhaps they don’t have the knowledge of additives, preservatives, flavourings and other modified ingredients.  Perhaps all they do is trust the supplier of the oil or supplement or food, they then bottle it and sell it to pharmacies, practitioners and health food stores, who are none the wiser and then we buy it believing that it is OK.
Ever since that encounter I have been watching the fish oil industry become a phenomenon, even the Australian Heart Foundation has given their tick of approval to the fish oil industry and many doctors will suggest fish oil supplements.


Is fish oil all it has been marketed to be or is it just that – clever marketing? 


The idea that fish oil could help in the prevention of heart disease began with epidemiological studies of populations that ate fish.  It seemed the populations that ate fish had less heart disease (I’m sure they weren’t eating McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried chicken with a bit of fish on the side). Then there seemed to be a slide sideways from eating the whole fish to just the fish oil.  As the momentum grew supplement companies got on the band wagon, knowing the cheaper they made it the more they would sell, thus extracting the oil cheaply with solvents from farmed fish, fed soy pellets (my word for processed fish foods), adding cheap soybean oil, man-made antioxidants and other cheap additives.  Then for children they added extra goodies, like colours, flavours and artificial sweeteners.
What You Need to Know When You Buy Fish Oil – Here are some questions to ask
The species of fish, is it farmed or wild? What ocean and hemisphere did it come from? Is the whole body used?  What is the extraction method?  Is the fish oil encapsulated or not (liquid or gel cap)?  What are the ingredients of the gel capsule?  Has the extracted oil been tested for mercury, PCB’s, oxidation and other contaminants and the result? Where is the purity certification and name of the testing facility? What is the age of the fish oil? Was the oil encapsulated at the oil extraction factory or trucked across the country in a tanker and what other foods had been carried in the tanker?
As someone who in the last two years has been on a huge learning curve with sourcing food, I know that all these things are available to the wholesale buyer, it is a matter if they care enough to read the spec sheet and then if it is good – add it to the label.  If it is not good you wouldn’t add it to the label you would just put other words of insignificance, such as mercury tested as opposed to less than .01% mercury.
My ‘AHA’ Moment about Gel Capsules and The Supplement Industry!
I wanted to bring camu camu (South American food high in vitamin C) into Australia.  It is not a cheap food, so my husband and I thought we would put it in gel caps.  Of course I wanted to know what the gel caps were made of – I was absolutely blown away that they had sodium lauryl sulphate and propylene glycol in them (can cause kidney and liver damage, banned in the US), let alone other ingredients and chemicals I had never heard of such as; methylparaben, propylparaben, methacrylic acid, copolymer, hypromellose phthalate, titanium dioxide, povidone, vanillin (synthetic vanilla) and much more.  Needless to say we put a big red cross on gel caps.  Not all gel caps are made equally of course, but what disturbs me is that they do not disclose the ingredients of the gel cap on any drug or supplement packaging, therefore you cannot make an informed decision.  So while you think you are taking a great supplement the carrier vehicle might be quite toxic.
Another eye opener when we were looking at the camu camu was price.  My husband called me into his office one morning and asked me to look at the price discrepancy between the South American camu camu and the USA camu camu.  South America is the home of camu camu, so we believed that it should be where we could get the best price, but when we looked at the USA price it was almost half.  We were both puzzled, so we called the rep on the price difference, he told us that they add vitamin C powder made from keto acid to the camu camu to bring the price down and the vitamin C level up.  Needless to say we still are looking at the camu camu but we want the real stuff, in loose form without additives.
Like I said it has been a huge learning curve and the more I learn the more disgusted I become with the industry.  Ethics have gone out the window and in its place is the greed for profits especially for companies where shareholders are part of the equation.  I also think that many of the people who go into the supplement business are not aware of what the industry is doing and blindly put things together without knowing the origin, what is added or even how flavour is made.
Childrens Fish Oil – Sweeteners, Flavours and Secret Formulas
I began calling the companies of the fish oil capsules and liquid that I found at the pharmacy, most were reputable brands with recognised names.  One company made a fish oil capsule for children, as soon as I opened the container I could smell artificial and sickly sweet.  The label did not say the ingredients it merely suggested that the capsules were flavoured.  I spoke with the naturopath at the company who said that there were ingredients they don’t have to give out and are part of their “secret formula”.  She did mention that sucralose an artificial sweetener as well as artificial flavours and synthetic colours were used.  She said that if you have an allergy to a food then she could say yes or no on my prompting.  I know if I’m proud of the foods I bring to the market I’m happy to tell what the ingredients are, after all isn’t fish oil, fish oil?
Ethics of Eating Fish Oil
While there are one or two companies on the market where the fish oil seems pure as far as I can ascertain, I do have  another problem with the fish oil industry and that is the waste of fish.  It takes approximately 5 kilograms of fish to make 1 kilogram of fish oil.  Fish oil is expensive, the adding of other oils such as soy bean is to bring the price down.  So if you are eating cheap fish oil capsules then you’re probably wasting your money and exposing your body to toxins that may be in the gel caps or within the oil itself.
Also consider that most fish oil capsules are 1000mg or 1gm, that equates to 5 gms of fish, take 10 capsules a day, this equates to 50 gms of fish a day.  Multiply that by 7 days of the week – 350gm of fish.  If you ate 2 servings of fish a week you will probably eat around 500 gms in total equating to more fish oil than taking the capsules.  Plus you will avoid any contaminants concentrated in the fish oil or the capsule.  This of course is assuming that the fish oil has not had other oils added to it to make it a cheaper oil.
At this point you may be asking about the contaminants and pollutants in the fish.  If you have your greens (salad greens, kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, beans) with your fish then the power of these foods will draw out toxins.  In other words have fish and salad not fish and chips.  And to make extra sure have some Supreme Green Blend each day.
Our oceans are depleted of fish, surely the taking of fish oil  is something that we should take an ethical stand on and think about the resources our food and supplements come from.  It’s worth contemplating.
Improving The Brains of Children
Despite the increased interest in the effects of fish oil supplements on childrens’ learning and behaviour, there are a lack of controlled studies of this kind that have utilised a typically developing population. This study click here for article investigated the effects of omega-3 supplementation in 450 children aged 8–10 years old from a mainstream school population, using a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled design. Participants were supplemented with DHA and EPA or a placebo for 16 weeks. Fatty acid levels were recorded pre and post supplementation and a range of cognitive tests and parent and teacher questionnaires were used as outcome measures. After supplementation, changes in the relationship between omega-6 and omega-3 were significant in the active group. Despite the wide range of cognitive and behavioural outcome measures employed, only three significant differences between groups were found after 16 weeks, one of which was in favour of the placebo condition. Exploring the associations between changes in fatty acid levels and changes in test and questionnaire scores also produced equivocal results. In other words perhaps the whole marketing on fish oil capsules with DHA and EPA and cognition in children is not really what it is cracked up to be.
Official Stand by Heart Foundation
Fish oil is claimed by the heart foundation in their official 2008 document to help with the prevention of CVD and stroke as well as enhance the effect of statin drugs, decrease triglyceride levels and raise HDL levels.  Yet their level of research, as they point out is not at the top level.
I read an article recently on the website “in conversation” and the author stated that  “ The fish oil story reflects the challenges involved in translating research evidence into community knowledge and behaviour.  And it shows why those who stand by evidence in medicine must be prepared to give up their most cherished beliefs if the science demands it”.  The Heart Foundations stand on fats and heart disease are just that – cherished beliefs.  More and more science is proving that it is not the fat  that is the problem in the diet but rather the carbohydrates that may be the real culprit in the escalation of heart disease.  More on that in another newsletter.
No Proof That Fish Oil Prevents Heart Disease
The latest meta analysis (collections of studies) that appeared in the September 2012 issue of JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association), which included 68,000 participants in 20 different studies that covered 24 years and further systematic reviews in the Archives of Internal Medicine and the Annals of Internal Medicine have all separately failed to support the notion that fish oil reduces CVD risk.
The JAMA 2012 study included both dietary and supplement studies, in other words they went through whether you got your omega 3 by eating the whole fish or took the Omega 3 supplement and neither were conclusive for preventing cardiac problems such as heart attacks, stroke, sudden death and arrhythmias.
Strong words!  So does that mean eating fish isn’t any good for my health?  No definitely not. Like anything I talk about, health and prevention of disease is about many things that you do, not one.  Eating Mc Donalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and 2 servings of fresh wild fish a week is not going to do you a lot of good.  Its the many small things you do that make all the difference.  Eating fish once or twice a week and following my book Lab to Table which teaches the small food habit changes to make, that creates all the difference.
Inflammation and Fish Oils
As far as I can see there is no negative literature around the fact that omega 3’s have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.  Many people who take fish oil will attest to this fact.  That’s great news in the whole story of fish oil.  But let’s look at it this way.  Something you are probably eating is causing the inflammation, stop eating the offending food and the inflammation will slow or even stop, then you won’t need the fish oil.  With the Fat Loss Protocol and the Healthy Keto Way we figure out what is causing the inflammation. When you find out the food that is causing inflammation then you have a decision to make.  To either take the food out of your diet and be free from pain and health issues or continue to eat the food and look for band aids – like anti inflammatories. Knowing what foods cause you inflammation is empowering.
Global sales for fish oil capsules are estimated at $2.5 billion, they have become the single best selling product in the food supplement market, this is probably due to the media and the public wanting the magic cure all, prevent all pill.  One quarter of the Australian population is consuming fish oil capsules as a preventive supplement and perhaps it’s an expense we can do without both ethically and for the hip pocket.  Save your money and eat your fish along with all the other small habits that make all the difference.
Happy Changing Habits
P.S. – This is what you would have to do if you wanted to make your own fish oil!!!!
How To Make Your Own Fish Oil and Fish Meal 1.    Place fish in processor and cut into pieces then steam 2.    Separate the oil from the fat free dry solids by centrifuging or pressing 3.    Use the fat free dry solids to make fish meal for animal fodder. 4.    Press or centrifuge the oil further to separate it from the water, solvents can be used 5.    Boil the fish oil using hot water to polish and remove impurities. 6.    Add antioxidants to preserve the oil You can use fresh or farmed sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna as well and other pelagic species.  Pelagic fish live near the surface of the water as opposed to the bottom of the ocean floor.

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1 Comment

  1. Jan

    Wow, all the answers I had questions and suspicions about in one article. Thankyou for your research and candidness. I have long been suspicious of additives (never listed because they fall under the miniscule percentage required for labelling). But, they are still there and they affect my body regardless of amount. If only more people were more discerning. Thank you. Jan.


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