Consumer Reports: Something's fishy about fish oil

2012-03-29T07:00:00Z Consumer Reports: Something's fishy about fish oilBy Joanne Fox Sioux City Journal

If you're hooked on fish -- oil that is -- recent testing has indicated that not all brands are equal.

In lab tests of 15 top-selling brands of fish oil supplements, Consumer Reports magazine found that some fell a bit short on quality.

Fish oil supplements have become wildly popular, with consumers taking them to treat a long list of ailments including heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, stroke, weak bones, weight loss and high cholesterol, according to Megan Cleveland, a registered dietitian at Mercy Weightloss Center.

"Fish oil comes form the tissue of oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut and cod liver," she said. "Fish oil can be obtained by either taking fish oil supplements or by eating fish that contain the omega-3 oils. Studies have shown that fish oil may be effective for many different things, but they have only been proven to be effective in treating high triglycerides, which are associated in untreated diabetes and heart disease."

Ronni Sandroff, editorial director, Health and Family, Consumer Reports, suggested talking to a family doctor before adding a fish oil supplement to your diet.

"In our recent tests, we found that some were not as pure as one might think," she clarified.

Consumer Reports sent three lots of top selling brands to an outside lab to evaluate whether they contained the listed amount of Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, whether they properly disintegrated, whether they showed signs of spoilage, and whether they contained any contaminants, such as lead, mercury, dioxins, or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The results?

One or more samples from five brands did not meet all of those standards.

Consumer Reports stated fish oil supplements might help people with high levels of triglycerides, the artery-clogging fat that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Fish oil may reduce those levels by 20 to 50 percent.

Cleveland acknowledged the use of fish oil is a hot topic in the area of medicine right now and further studies need to be performed to know the full benefits of fish oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)," she said.

"Interestingly enough, fish do not produce Omega-3, but rather they accumulate them by eating other fish that have eaten microalgae that contains the Omega-3," Cleveland added.

Consumer Reports noted although the evidence was not overwhelming, the supplements might modestly lower high blood pressure, ease menstrual and rheumatoid arthritis pain, and may even improve symptoms of ADHD and asthma in children.

"It seems, that in my research, fish oils and Omega-3 have many benefits," Cleveland noted. "But the best benefits may remain to be discovered. It will be interesting to continue to watch the studies that are taking place in this area of medicine."

The magazine went on to report research to date has not shown fish oil to be very effective for many common ailments. There isn't enough evidence to say whether fish oil protects against Alzheimer's disease, heart arrhythmia, depression, dry eyes, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, pregnancy complications or cancer.

"Depending on the reason you are taking fish oil, the hope is that the symptoms would decrease as you consume the recommended dose of the supplement," Cleveland said. "In cases such as high triglycerides, your blood levels should decrease if the treatment is effective."

As with any supplement you might add to your diet, there may be side effects.

"There is a maximum intake of the omega-3 supplement set by the FDA of 3,000 mg per day," Cleveland cautioned. "In terms of fish oil itself, the dosage is dependent on the medical problem. For example the recommended dose for high triglycerides is one to four grams per day of fish oil. Of course, it is always best to consult with a physician before talking any supplements."

Cleveland suggested a better strategy than considering fish oil supplements a cure-all.

"In looking at total health, we do know that along with these treatments the best thing that you can do for your health is eating a balanced diet with lean proteins, low-fat dairy, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and participating in moderate amounts of exercise daily," she said.

For specifics on the Consumer Reports investigation, visit

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