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Putting Fish Oil Supplements to the Test

For the report, the consumer agency purchased three lots of 15 different top-selling brands of fish oil supplements online and in the New York metropolitan area.

The samples were sent to a lab where they were tested for contaminants as well as spoilage and whether they disintegrated properly.

Two of the three samples of Kirkland Signature Enteric 1200 fish oil supplements had an enteric coating (designed to prevent a fishy aftertaste) that did not disintegrate properly. The coating may break up in the stomach rather than in the small intestine, as desired for proper absorption by the body.

Nine brands passed all quality measures tested, including:

  • Spring Valley Omega-3
  • Finest Natural
  • Walgreens Omega-3 Concentrate
  • Barlean’s Organic Oils EPA-DHA
  • Nature Made 1,200 MG
  • The Vitamin Shoppe Meg-3 EPA-DHA
  • Carlson Super Omega-3 Gems
  • Norwegian Gold Ultimate Critical Omega
  • Nature’s Way Fisol

One product, Nordic Naturals, could not be properly evaluated because it contained lemon oil, and there are no industry-standard tests that Consumer Reports could find that could test for spoilage in products with lemon oil.

Nordic Naturals did meet every other quality measure in the study, though.

How to Find the Best Fish Oil Supplements

The authors say even the brands that passed all their quality measures contained at least some detectable level of most of the contaminants.

A spokesman for the dietary supplement industry says PCBs are everywhere in the environment, especially in fish. The tests picked up only very trace amounts of the contaminants that were within the limits set by the USP and European Union.

“The big take-home [message] is that all 15 supplements passed all laws and regulations as far as quality, as well as voluntary regulations for USP levels for toxins,” says Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

He advises that people looking for a quality fish oil supplement follow these steps:

  • Look for companies that disclose their results for testing for environmental contaminants.
  • Look for supplements that have third-party verification, such as USP.
  • Bite into the capsule to make sure it tastes fresh and not “fishy.”

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