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Consumer Reports: The Truth About Fish Oil

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DETROIT (WWJ) - In lab tests of 15 top-selling brands of fish oil supplements, Consumer Reports found that five 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 menstrual cramps, heart disease, asthma, bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, depression, psoriasis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and pregnancy complications.

Consumer Reports sent three lots of top-selling brands purchased online or in New York area stores 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 didn’t meet all of those quality standards.

  • All had their labeled amount of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
  • None exceeded limits for lead, mercury, dioxins, or PCBs set by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), a nongovernmental standard-setting group.
  • Consumer Reports found total PCBs in amounts that could require warning labels under California’s Proposition 65, a consumer right-to-know law, in one sample of each of the CVS Natural, GNC Triple Strength, and Sundown Naturals, and in two samples of Nature’s Bounty Odorless.
  • And two samples of Kirkland Signature Enteric 1200 (Costco) failed the USP disintegration test for capsules with enteric coating (designed to help prevent fishy aftertaste).

Is fish oil right for you?

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

People who have coronary heart disease should also consider taking it. Fish oil may lower their risk of a second heart attack, possibly because it slows or slightly reverses hardening of the coronary arteries.

And while the evidence isn’t 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.

They might also help with osteoporosis, kidney disease, bipolar disorder, and Raynaud’s syndrome, a rare disorder that affects blood vessels in the fingers and toes.

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.

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