Are there any real benefits to paying a little extra for pharmaceutical grade fish oil products? You’ve no doubt already heard of the many benefits fish oil can provide for healthier functioning of the brain, heart, and body in general.
- But is all fish oil equal, or should you be only looking for a particular type of oil in order to get the best results?
- Can cheap fish oil do more harm than good?
These are common questions people ask when they first looking into buying fish oil supplements, and they’re questions we’re about to answer for you.
Finding the Best Fish Oil Supplement
The short answer is: yes, the purity and refinement of the fish oil you take matters a great deal.
Pharmaceutical grade fish oil is the purest type available. Below that on the purity scale is health food grade fish oil, and below that again is cod liver oil.
So What’s the Difference Between Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil and the Others?
1) In Part, It’s the Source of the Oil – the More Omega-3 the Better
Obviously, cod liver oil is only derived from cod, a type of fish which is not particularly dense in omega-3 fatty acids (one of the major components of fish oil that make it such a ‘miracle food.’)
The amount of omega-3 is one of the biggest differences you’ll find between different grades of fish oil – in general, pharmaceutical grade has the highest density of high quality omega-3s.
2) Contaminants Are Another Factor that Separate Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil from the Others.
The lower, less refined grades contain a higher percentage of harmful substances such as mercury (mercury is found in most fish, but pure fish oil is refined to remove as much of it as possible along with other potentially harmful substances).
Mercury can be extremely damaging to brain cells and as a result, taking a high dosage of low grade fish oil like cod liver oil can lead to elevated mercury levels, and as a result you can end up doing more harm to yourself than good.
Watch Out! There Is no Official Standard of Purity
Now, there is a very important fact to remember here: when it comes to pharmaceutical fish oil, there is no official standard of purity.
That means that just because a product is labeled as ‘pharmaceutical grade’ does not necessarily mean it has been tested by any official organization and proven to have a high level of purity.
Don’t Take Labels at Face Value
You do need to be careful about which brands you buy and don’t take labels at face value, because the lack of regulation in the fish oil market means it is still possible for manufacturers to pass off products as higher quality than they really are through clever marketing techniques.
In order to make sure you don’t get caught out, it’s important to understand where pure fish oil comes from and the processes used to purify it.
This will allow you to read labels knowledgeably and identify when a product is ‘the real deal’ and when it may be trying to lead you astray with a few buzz words.
Identifying Pure Fish Oil: Knowing about the Fish Type and the Processing
When we talk about the purity of fish oil, we’re generally referring to a combination of the purity of the source (the fish itself) and how the oil has been processed or refined before it reaches the store shelf.
Certain Types of Fish are More Prone to Containing High Levels of Contaminants
In particular, large fish species such as tuna often tend to have higher levels of mercury than small fish species. The fish’s size and position in its food chain both contribute to the contaminant levels in the oil extracted from it.
Also, not all fish oil products are derived from a single type of fish – a lot of health food grade fish oil contains a mixture of oils from different species.
Even when you’re dealing with oil which is derived from low-contaminant species of fish, the way the oil is refined is what ultimately plays the biggest factor in its purity level.
Ultra Refined Fish Oil: The Extraction Process
Most health food grade fish oil is refined, but pharmaceutical grade fish oil takes that refinement to another level.
Health food grade oil has many contaminants and often some of its cholesterol removed. This is achieved through distillation and a process called ‘thermal fractionation’ – which sounds technical, but really it just means the oil is cooled down and then much of the saturated fat is removed.
When it comes to ultra refined fish oil, the starting point is usually one of these fractionated fish oil concentrates.
The oil is then further processed to become pharmaceutical grade fish oil. This requires a distillation process which refines the oil to a more more significant degree – the leap from health food grade fish oil to pharmaceutical grade is much bigger than the quality difference between health food grade and cod liver oil.
Pharmaceutical fish oil has the vast majority of contaminants and unhealthy fats removed, while concentrating much higher levels of omega-3s.
On top of this refinement process, pharmaceutical grade fish oil also combines the two important fatty acids – EPA and DHA – in a specific ratio. Pharmaceutical grade oils contain two parts EPA to one part DHA, as this ratio appears to produce the most significant results in clinical studies.
Health Benefits of Fish Oil
So now you know how pharmaceutical grade oil is superior to other grades in terms of its content, but how does that translate when it comes to real health benefits?
To answer that question it’s important to understand how fish oil can actually help you, how pharmaceutical grade oil achieves those health benefits more effectively, and how pharmaceutical grade oil eliminates most of the risks involved in fish oil supplementation.
One of the Biggest General Benefit of Fish Oil Is Its Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Fish oil is particularly useful for sufferers of inflammation problems such as arthritis.
It also has a broad range of effects on health and brain health. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, fish oil helps thin out the blood – that means a lower incidence of clotting, which in turn may reduce the risk of strokes and heart disease.
How to Choose the Right Liquid Fish Oil Capsules
Liquid fish oil contained within capsules is the most convenient way to take the oil as a supplement. Of course, at this point you need a little more guidance on how to choose the right pharmaceutical grade fish oil.
Remember how we discussed the fact that there is no official US or international body which keeps track of fish oil purity?
The International Fish Oil Standards Organization: Who Are They?
That’s important to remember when you read labels, because you’re likely to come across something called the International Fish Oil Standards organization, which hands out ratings to fish oil products.
This organization does actually perform testing and its ratings can be useful for finding higher-quality fish oils, but it’s very important to realize this is NOT a government organization but in fact a private company which takes payment for testing and rating manufacturers’ products.
The International Fish Oil Standards organization do test products – a company can’t simply buy a five-star rating – however some fish oil companies will apply their IFOS rating to all their products, even if not all of those products are the same quality as the tested products that were awarded a high rating.
Education Is Much More Reliable Than “Seals of Approval”
In short, it’s much more important to know what’s actually in the capsules you’re buying and how the oil was made, rather than looking at ‘seals of approval’ – these are never as official as they look because, once again, fish oil is still not particularly well regulated.
Rather than looking at brands themselves, it’s often more worthwhile to look at the content of the capsules.
Don’t Go for Less Than 1000mg of Omega-3
Omega-3 content is what really matters, and if a brand is advertising as ‘pharmaceutical grade’ but the capsules contain less than 1000mg of omega-3, chances are you’re looking at some misleading marketing.
You’ll Want About 300-400mg of EPA and Around 200mg of DHA
Also take into account the amount of EPA and DHA, and the ratio between the two – ideally you want fish oil capsules with around 300-400mg of EPA and around 200mg of DHA.
There are a few respectable brands on the market that have been independently tested and rated highly for purity – brands which really do deserve the term ‘pharmaceutical grade.’
One of these is Xtend Life, an ultra refined fish oil brand derived from Hoki fish. Xtend Life imposes its own high level of regulation on the purity of its products and has them tested by multiple independent bodies.
They are widely regarded as the most reliable source for pure, ultra refined fish oil. Xtend Life’s products meet a significantly higher standard than those laid down by the International Fish Oil Standards organization, not only in terms of low levels of contaminants like lead and mercury but also in terms of high, concentrated levels of omega-3.
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