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Fish Oil Quality: How Important Is It Really?

By Breea Johnson, MS RD LDN

Fish oil with Omega-3s (that supply DHA and EPA) are a class of supplements commonly recommended for women with infertility. While nutritionists stress the importance of quality when choosing supplements, many people buy fish oil from their local store for convenience or to save money. This past week a lawsuit was filed in California against fish oil manufacturers [CVS Pharmacy Inc.; General Nutrition Corp. (GNC); Now Health Group Inc.; Omega Protein Inc.; Pharmavite LLC (Nature Made brand); Rite Aid Corp.; Solgar Inc., and TwinLab Corp]. The lawsuit charges that these companies sold fish oil that contained “undisclosed and unnecessarily high levels of contamination with polycholorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds.”

What are PCBs? PCBs are a class of chemicals that are now illegal. However, they were utilized for many different purposes in industrial manufacturing – such as in coolants, PVC piping, pesticides and paints among other things. They are now considered one of the POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants), a group of the most toxic compounds that still exist in our food and bodies despite being outlawed years ago. According to the EPA, PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals, and negatively affect the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system, amongst other ill health effects. Here is an excerpt from the EPA’s website about the effect of PCBs on reproduction in animals and humans:

“PCB exposures were found to reduce the birth weight, conception rates and live birth rates of monkeys and other species and PCB exposure reduced sperm counts in rats. Effects in monkeys were long-lasting and were observed long after the dosing with PCBs occurred.

Studies of reproductive effects have also been carried out in human populations exposed to PCBs. Children born to women who worked with PCBs in factories showed decreased birth weight and a significant decrease in gestational age with increasing exposures to PCBs. Studies in fishing populations believed to have high exposures to PCBs also suggest similar decreases. This same effect was seen in multiple species of animals exposed to PCBs, and suggests that reproductive effects may be important in humans following exposures to PCBs.”

According to the Environmental Working Group, one of the highest food sources of PCBs include farm-raised (or Atlantic Salmon), with 16 times the amount of PCBs as wild salmon. Thus, supplementing your diet with a fish oil that contains PCBs or eating farm-raised salmon to obtain omega-3s may do more harm than good. It’s important to know where your supplements (and food) are sourced from, and how the companies treat and process it to form a supplement. There are many companies that sell high-quality fish oil. Read more about the quality of our fish oil here . Please consult with a Pulling Down the Moon nutritionist if you have more questions concerning this matter.

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