Despite decades of research on the cardiovascular and cognitive benefits of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, most consumers have only recently become aware of the benefits of omega-3 supplementation.
As the consumption of fish and fish oil for its omega-3 intake has increased, consumers have also learned about potential safety concerns related to fish. Fish, being sourced from our seas and oceans are exposed to man-made and natural contaminants present in the water and in their diet, which in turn enter our own bodies as we consume the fish.
There is an advantage to taking fish oil supplements vs. fish in fillet or canned form. Fish oils, derived from the body or liver of the fish, can be cleaned. Processes such as filtering and molecular distillation help to remove contaminants. Just as important as the cleaning of the fish oil itself, however, is follow-up testing to confirm safety.
A testing service in Guelph, Ontario was set up for the purpose of confirming the quality of fish oil supplements. International Fish Oil Standards, or IFOS, independently tests fish oil supplements and then publishes the detailed results on their own website for the public’s review: www.ifosprogram.com. Further, IFOS actually rates the quality of the fish oil supplements on a 5-star rating system: 5 stars being “exceptional” quality oil, 1 star being “poor” quality oil.
The five categories rated are:
Star 1 – Product passes all CRN (Council for Responsible Nutrition)/WHO (World Health Organization) testing for fish oils.
Star 2 – Product tests show EPA and DHA label claims met (or > 60% combined EPA/DHA for concentrated fish oils).
Star 3 – Oxidation level less Than 75 per cent of CRN standard.
Star 4 – PCB levels less Than 50 per cent of CRN standard.
Star 5 – Dioxin and furan levels less than 50 per cent of WHO standard.
These testing categories help to confirm three important issues.
- Safety: As our environment and oceans become increasingly polluted, the fish we consume are at risk such harmful contaminants as heavy metals, mercury, lead, furans, dioxins and PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls). IFOS testing goes beyond government standards to evaluate the safety of fish oil products from these harmful substances.
- Omega-3 potency: It’s not the quantity of fish oil in a supplement that matters; it’s the omega-3 content. Check product labels for the actual Omega-3 content of your fish oil. Look for EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) content specifically, the most important Omega-3’s. Concentrated forms of fish oil can contain over 400 mg of EPA and 200 mg of DHA in a single capsule. IFOS testing verifies that label claims are being met.
- Freshness: In addition to testing for environmental contaminants, IFOS confirms product freshness. Having fresh fish oil is important as consumers can become ill from ingesting rancid fish oils with high oxidation. IFOS evaluates a product’s level of oxidation to determine whether the product is fresh or rancid.
The easiest way to find out more about the safety, potency and freshness of your favourite fish oil supplement is by checking the IFOS website at www.ifosprogram.com under the tab “Consumer Reports”. You will see the testing results for fish oil brands from around the world that have submitted their products for the stringent independent testing conducted by IFOS.
It’s nice to know that when you’re taking your daily fish oil product it is safe, potent and fresh. IFOS’s confirmation testing can give you that peace of mind.
Every batch of Health First® Omega-First supplements are tested by IFOS and have consistently received a 5 Star rating.
Sensitive to fish oil?
For those very sensitive to fish oil supplements, Health First® also offers an enteric-coated gelcap. Omega-First Enteric gelcaps are coated to pass through the stomach acid pH without breaking down. This allows the gelcap to pass into the intestine, where it quickly breaks down in the intestine’s more alkaline pH, avoiding the reflux issues that some experience with fish oil gelcaps that break down in the stomach.