What's Fishy About Fish Oil

Of all the nutritional supplements that have caught on in the American market, perhaps none is more successful than fish oil. In fact, American consumers spend over $1 billion annually on over-the-counter fish oil supplements, motivated by the promise of improved heart health and brain function. But are they really getting what they’re paying for? 

The simple answer is: probably not. 

Omega 3's in Fish Oil

Fish oils are a popular source of omega-3s, or “good fat.” They are an important fatty acid group that can’t be produced by the body; instead, we get them from our diets. Depending on the molecular type, omega-3s can be found in walnuts, canola oil, and flax seeds; but the most popular and well known source is fatty fish, such as salmon or sardines. Omega-3s are important agents in brain function and controlling inflammation, while deficiencies have been linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, cancers, and arthritis. 

For these reasons, fish oil has become a popular dietary supplement, marketed as an easy way to boost heart health and sharpen mental agility. There are two primary kinds of fish oils on the market, a triglyceride form (TG) and an ethyl-ester form (EE), with EE acting as the industry standard in the pharmaceutical manufacturing of fish oil. Food companies have also been quick to cash in, adding it to products including cereal, juice, and even milk. 

But as with many other vitamins, minerals, and complex molecules, the way that fish oil is extracted and packaged is essential to its holding any nutritional value once ingested. This is where most fish oils on the market fall short. 

Problems with Extraction Methods 

Diagnosing the problem is complicated. First, our bodies absorb naturally sourced omega-3s in different ways, involving different digestive and biochemical processes. Second, the process of extracting pure fish oil is exactly that: a process. Unlike squeezing the juice from an orange, acquiring oil from fish involves separating the omega-3s--namely, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)--from other proteins, fats, and heavy metals (like mercury). Filtering out these substances is technically difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. 

Molecular Distillation 

Most companies resort to molecular distillation to extract fish oils: an oxidized process that affects oil acidity, decreases the product’s shelf life, and is less effective in eliminating the volatile compounds found in the raw material. In order to bring fish oils to market with greater purity and integrity, BodyBio has developed a more sophisticated, non-oxidized refinement process using freeze dried material and high pressure equipment. 

Supercritical Fluid Extraction 

Though more expensive to produce upfront, this method (called supercritical fluid extraction) converts DHA and EPA into smaller molecules to increase the concentration of each capsule. As a result, our Kirunal product offers nearly three times the amount of DHA and EPA compared to most fish oils on the market, which contain 30% or less. 

It is worth noting that while omega-3s are an important part of our diets and cellular health, studies are mixed as to whether fish oil supplements work to actively prevent or lower risk factors for heart disease. There is also evidence to suggest that introducing a surplus of omega-3s is into the diet--whether from foods or supplements--is in fact detrimental. If you feel that your diet may be omega-3 deficient, seek advice from a medical professional or dietician on whether a fish oil product could improve your health and wellness.