Why Fish Oils Aren’t All The Same

For those who take a fish oil supplement everyday or eat a decent amount of fresh fish, it can be assumed that it is all created equal.

Unfortunately – this is just not the case.

A lot of people consider all fish oil supplements the same. The only difference is the cost.

So why spend more on a ‘quality’ fish oil, rather than just picking up a value pack from the chemist?

Fish sources

A major difference between inferior fish oils and superior fish oils is the source. The fact is, all fish oils can actually be separated into several different types, or grades, dependent on the source of the oil. These grades vary dramatically in quality, consistency, safety and effectiveness.

In the old days, the most common type of fish oil was cod liver oil. Though cod liver oil is high in omega-3’s, it is considered low grade due to its’ generally high percentage of contaminates – along with the omega-3’s, you may also receive high levels of mercury, pesticides, solvents, and peroxides.

Nowadays, the best quality fish oils are sourced from small cold- and salt-water fish like anchovys, sardines, mackerel and even krill. These are pure sources of fish oil that contain little contamination or heavy metals.

Generally, the cheap kinds of fish oils are sourced from sharks, cod, tuna, salmon and other ‘waste’ fish sources – all of which are known to contain high levels of mercury and other contaminates. These fish are all quite large in size, and therefore will accumulate more toxins through what they eat than the smaller fish mentioned above will.


In order for a fish oil to be virtually free from contaminates, it must undergo an extensive (and often expensive) filtration and distillation process during manufacture.

Levels of contamination is a concern we see expressed time and time again, and for good reason. The best fish oils undergo a lengthy molecular distillation process that separates dangerous mercury and lead from the oil, while concentrating it for higher omega-3 levels.

These fish oils are well under Australian standards for levels of pesticides, solvents and heavy metals, so you know that you are only swallowing fish oil, and nothing else.

Molecular distillation is an expensive process, which is why many cheaper brands do not undertake it. Without proper distillation, the fish oils can contain high levels of dangerous contaminates.

Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to stop this evasion from happening, and these cheap fish oils continue to be rolled out.

Only after this precise molecular distillation process has been undertaken, and when the fish oil is regularly tested and passed to have low levels of contamination can they be referred to as ‘Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil’.

Because of the process, you can be sure that even the smallest particles of contamination are removed, resulting in a fish oil that is approximately 1000 times more pure than any chemist grade fish oil.


Heavy metals like mercury, lead, arsenic and pesticides are considered oxidants. They are detrimental to your health, attacking healthy cells and causing illness and disease. Recent attention on antioxidants and ‘free radical damage’ has highlighted the importance of reducing oxidants in the body.

Unfortunately, for those who are taking an antioxidant supplement, a cheap fish oil may be erasing all your hard work.

On the other hand, a top, pharmaceutical-grade fish-oil derived omega-3 supplement is actually one of nature’s best antioxidants. It has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier, helping to prevent the incidence of strokes, heart attacks and inflammatory conditions.

Another possible source of oxidants in cheap fish oils are are rancid fats. The types of fats (polyunsaturated) in fish oil are very susceptible to oxygen, heat and light, therefore high-grade fish oil manufacturers use specific manufacturing practices such as nitrogen flushing to ensure fish oils are protected from oxidation throughout the entire production and transport process.

In the production of low grade fish oil, these measures may not be taken, leaving you with harmful oxidised (rancid) fats. A fishy smell to your fish oil capsules or liquid indicates the product may be rancid.


Concentration and Ratio

An obvious difference between a good fish oil and a ‘great’ fish oil is the strength. Don’t be fooled by the ‘each capsule contains 1 gram of fish oil!’ claims. If each tablet weighs 1 gram, then of course it contains 1 gram of fish oil. The difference is in the concentration of omega-3’s in that capsule.

The top pharmaceutical-grade fish oils contains high ratios of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid). For example, BioCeuticals UltraClean EPA/DHA Plus contains 300mg of EPA, and 200mg of DHA.

In comparison, a cheaper brand like Nature’s Own Fish Oil contains only 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA. Though it may seem cheaper, you’ll need to take twice as many Nature’s Own capsules for the same amount of omega 3 in one capsule of the Eagle brand. And you think you’re saving yourself money.

For maintenance of general health, fish oil needs to contain appropriate ratios. It is known that EPA is important for the treatment and reduction of inflammation, reduction of strokes and heart attack prevention. DHA is important for foetus development, cognition and brain development. Many cheaper brands simply ‘throw in’ what they can get.


Pharmaceutical Grade

 As discussed, there are a few different ‘grades’ of fish oil that are available.

Scarily, not all products are TGA approved (Therapeutic Goods Administration – the governing body for natural medicine). This means that they have not undergone the strict quality testing required for approval – and they can be sold at any store that wishes to do so. This type of untested fish oil supplement is generally referred to as ‘supermarket’ grade.

The next grade, ‘health food store’ grade is generally available in your local health food store or chemist. These are often TGA approved, however they have not undergone rigorous testing in order to fully minimise the levels of contamination and toxicity. This grade generally contains low concentrations of contamination, and low levels of omega-3’s.

The highest level available is ‘Pharmaceutical-Grade’ fish oils. These fish oils represent the best in fish oil products available. They have undergone rigourous and ongoing testing, surpassing TGA expectations and ensuring that every single capsule contains molecularly distilled fish oil. Because of the highly expensive testing and production, very few brands make this grade.

Staff PhotographerEmed’s Comment:

If you are going to take a fish oil supplement (or any supplement), you should get the best quality available. As you would have read, buying fish oil is not as simple as just grabbing the cheapest off the shelf.

Literally thousands of product flyers and ads cross Emed’s desks every year. Only a couple out of every hundred make the cut. The majority of products available on Emed surpass TGA standards, so we can be sure of the quality and research that has gone into every capsule.

Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely beneficial to your health, but if you purchase a low-grade product that contain many contaminants or rancid fats, you could just end up doing yourself more harm than good.

Heart attack and stroke prevention, optimal brain function, memory, mental well-being, anti-inflammation and lower cholesterol are a few of the many benefits of taking a top fish oil.

By investing in a practitioner-only brand fish oil, you can be sure that it is one of the best on the market.

In this economic-focused climate, it can be tempting to just grab the cheap, bulk pack from the chemist, but we hope that this article stands to show the disadvantages and dangers of doing just that.

On the subject of expense, you need to devote some brain power to what you are really getting out of each capsule. Don’t just look at the big picture – it all comes down to actual concentrations. Some of the fish oils we offer are up to 6 times as strong as cheap brands.

The bottom line? Educate yourself. Stop wasting your money on cheap, nasty fish oils and invest in the BEST fish oil you can buy.


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