There has been an almighty spat about fish oil capsules which started a number of years ago and has recently re-ignited.

It began with a research group at the Liggins Institute in Auckland, one of whom was a former writer for The Health Reader, Professor David Cameron-Smith. They decided to analyse fish oil capsules for their contents after a study of fish oil in diabetes went the opposite way from expected.

They looked at several Australian and New Zealand products and found to their surprise, high levels of saturated fats, lower than anticipated levels of omega 3 fatty acids (which are what you’re paying for) and high levels of oxidation – in other words some of the omega 3 fatty acids were ‘off’ and therefore useless.

Then a Canadian group made similar findings as now have researchers at Harvard Medical School.

It won’t surprise you to hear that the fish oil supplement industry hasn’t taken this lying down and have accused the researchers of their own biases and conflicts of interest and flawed methodology. Needless to say they commissioned their own study using allegedly opaque methods and came up with a clean bill of health.

David Cameron-Smith says that even with the best will in the world, it’s hard for manufacturers to harvest, transport, extract and capsulise unoxidised omega 3 fatty acids.

So what are we hapless consumers to do? Well, if you’re taking fish oil for heart disease, there’s little evidence that supplements are any better that eating oily fish a couple of times a week.

Apparently omega 3 fatty acids from algae are coming onto the market and these might be more reliable for people who really want to take a supplement. Meantime perhaps stick to whole food sources.

Last Reviewed: 10/12/2019

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.