A study was released this week that shows that many of the popular brands of fish oils have high amounts of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds. PCB’s, once widely used in the electricity industry, are very toxic and have been banned from use since 1979. But because they do not break down easily, they persist in our environment. They have been shown to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity.
I have long been educating my patients about fish oils – both the benefits of them as well as the risks of not buying good quality.
Some of the health benefits include helping hormonal issues, heart protection, improving blood pressure, skin problems, arthritis, ADD, depression, and Alzheimer’s. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are very high in fish oils, are a very good anti-inflammatory. It’s one of my favorite supplements, for treating specific conditions, as well as prevention. As a midwife, all of my clients were taking fish oils throughout their pregnancy for the health benefits to the baby, particularly in neurological development.
But I always caution people. There are some supplements that you can get the cheapest thing you can find and it doesn’t matter. Fish oil is not one of them. I have worked closely with several companies so that I can be assured that they are doing all they can to make sure people are not getting harmful substances, such as PCBs, along with their beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
Since the fish in our oceans are heavily contaminated with mercury, it is also important to make sure that you are taking a fish oil that doesn’t have that as well. And since omega-3 fatty acids are very fragile, and degrade quickly when exposed to heat or light, it is critical that they not have any products of rancidity. Taking a rancid fish oil would do more harm to the body than any positive health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
So how could you possibly know if your fish oil is safe? The results of the ten brands that were checked for PCBs can be found at www.fishoilsafety.com. But there are hundreds of brands of fish oils. And none of the ones that I most commonly recommend were in the study. But you can still arm yourself with information to make sure that you are not putting yourself at risk. The very best companies send their product to an outside lab for confirmation of its potency and purity. What they get back from this lab is called a “certificate of analysis.” Not all companies will provide this, and none of them actually have to. But the ones who have been conscious from the beginning about selling a high quality product have had it done all along. It is obviously more costly to have this level of testing in place. So you might pay more for their product. But it is absolutely worth it.
Top producers of fish oil capsules also do their own in-house testing of the crude product. A few years ago I had a conversation with one of the quality manufacturers about this, and he mentioned that they have refused large quantities before. He is certain that the fish oil that they refused didn’t just get thrown away. It was sold to a company with lower standards, who likely sells their product for less.
The two brands I trust the most are Nordic Naturals and Vital Nutrients, a professional supplement line. Due to California’s Proposition 65, it sounds like the testing for toxins in products will continue to expand, and I hope that we can all be assured that as we try to improve our health, we are not exposed to further environmental toxins.