Label compliance in quality tests of fish oil supplements, claims study insufficient


The global omega-3 dietary supplement market was estimated at $ 5.18 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at an average annual growth rate of 8.4% from 2020 to 2027. Italy is the leading consumer of dietary supplements in Europe with a market share of 23% and a turnover of 3.3 billion euros in 2018.

Even so, according to the authors of the current study, there is little scientific work aimed at controlling the quality of these products, and there is only data for six countries in the world: Australia, Brazil, Finland, New Zealand, Poland, and the USA .

Kleiner et al. analyzed 47 commercial omega-3 dietary supplements and found that over 70% of the samples tested did not contain the stated amount of EPA or DHA, also found Ritter et al label claims.

Making a high quality omega-3 supplement requires meticulous cleaning steps that remove free fatty acids, heavy metals, colored compounds, and other contaminants. However, such processes are potentially expensive and some companies may choose not to go through them while still adhering to the instructions on the EPA and DHA label. However, the health effects of a dietary supplement that has not been purified can vary.

In the present study, three popular brands of fish oil supplements available on the Italian market were analyzed to measure their EPA and DHA levels, as well as other contaminants.


A good cleansing process was observed with Supplements 1 and 2, in contrast to Supplement 3, where the saturated fatty acids (SFAs) were practically on par with the original average levels of fish oils.

In addition to the significant presence of SFAs, Supplement 3 had a total omega-3 content of only 35 mg / 100 mg oil compared to 57 and 52 mg / 100 mg oil in Supplements 1 and 2. The measured EPA content in No. 3 was half of No. 1 and two-thirds of No. 2, while the measured DHA levels in No. 3 were about two-thirds of No. 1 and No. 2.

Expressed as a percentage, the sum of EPA plus DHA made up 58% and 52% of the total fatty acids in Supplement 1 and 2, respectively, while in Supplement 3 it was 32%.

That being said, Supplement 3 slightly exceeded the label information for both EPA and DHA, while in Supplements 1 and 2 EPA was about 80% of the declared amount, while DHA was 91-98%. This lower than indicated amount is a common observation in other studies and these values ​​are still well in line with current guidelines.

The authors conclude that supplements 1 and 2, apart from a slight difference between the measured and declared EPA content, were of higher quality than supplement 3. Supplement 3 also had a higher content of saturated fat, which indicates that suggests that there is incomplete or no cleaning.

Additionally, the authors suggest that the lower omega-3 content in Supplement 3 could encourage consumers to consume more oil, with possible side effects. They add that the lack of the cleaning process may lead to a food safety issue.

“This indicates that compliance with the labeled content of EPA and DHA is not the only parameter to be examined when analyzing fish oil supplements. Rather, an analysis of the overall composition of the fatty acids should be carried out.

“The next necessary step of the present study will be a broader campaign of measures, including the analysis of samples of different types (e.g. algae oil), in order to examine the extent to which these preliminary conclusions apply to the Italian omega-3 food supplement market, viz the commercialization of brands that have not undergone any cleaning and are available at a lower price. This is an aspect that has never been investigated in other works (price-performance ratio). “

Gerard Bannenberg, Director of Technical Compliance and Outreach at GOED (Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s) comments on this study that the results were not surprising, but the interpretation by the study authors was unexpected.

“Their argument that fish oils are an important source of saturated fat is not often heard. The amount of saturated fat that a consumer would absolutely get from a fish oil supplement is large compared to what they get from the rest small amount.” our normal diet. It felt like the authors wanted to highlight an aspect that could be interpreted as negative after determining that the claims on EPA / DHA contents were indeed acceptable. “

He notes that this study is a very small study with only three products tested and these products were not named.

“We cannot say whether these three products are representative [of the wider European market]. We know from our own studies and some scientific publications that the majority of the tested products from selected countries meet the label requirements for EPA / DHA content. “

He adds:GOED members who bring fish oil products onto the market must adhere to the voluntary GOED monograph, which sets out the quality requirements that our members adhere to. Through the voluntary commitment of manufacturers and dealers to comply with the quality requirements of the association, GOED ensures that at least our members offer high-quality products. It is extremely rare to find a GOED member product that does not meet the quality for the regulated environmental pollutants. Of course, there are omega-3 dietary supplements from retailers who are not GOED members, and we have no direct influence on their product quality. “

Source: Molecules

Nevigato, T., Masci, M. and Caproni, R.

“Quality of Fish Oil-Based Dietary Supplements Available in the Italian Market: A Preliminary Study”


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