Advances In Fish Oil Purity And Potency
By William Faloon
When fish oil supplements were first introduced, the main questions consumers asked were whether the omega-3 oils were free of contaminants and rancidity.
These were valid concerns as certain cold-water fish can be laden with dangerous pollutants.
Since omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats, they rapidly degrade (oxidize) under normal conditions.
For some people, even the slightest amount of rancidity created digestive upsets that made taking fish oil supplements intolerable.
Consumers today are fortunate that they can obtain high-quality fish oil supplements that are virtually free of contaminants and oxidized fats.
In an interesting turn for the better, competitive forces have raised the quality bar even higher for omega-3 supplements.
This article reveals a new source of fish oil that provides a superior standard of potency and freshness.
Most people have, by now, heard of the health benefits available from consumption of cold-water fish and fish oil—among the best-known are cardiovascular protection1-10 and promotion of brain health.11-32
Emerging evidence shows that consumption of omega-3s provides an even wider spectrum of critical health benefits.6,14,33-59
In order to derive meaningful results from fish oil, a relatively high daily dose is needed.
We at Life Extension® have long argued that optimal supplemental intake of omega-3s should be around 2,400 mg of EPA/DHA per day.60
Regrettably, the average American consumes just 200 mg per day of active EPA and DHA —that’s less than one-tenth of the optimum dose.60
Most Consumers Unaware
A problem we uncovered several years ago is that even those supplementing with a product labeled “fish oil” often obtain insufficient amounts of EPA and DHA.
This happens because some fish oil promoters pretend that their low-potency products contain enough omega-3s to provide the benefits documented in the peer-reviewed published literature.
We only wish it were possible to fit the requisite EPA/DHA into one or two small capsules. The reality is that to obtain optimal potencies of omega-3s, one has to swallow four modest-size, highly-concentrated fish oil capsules daily with meals.
There is no way around this potency mandate, yet surveys that Life Extension has done with health-conscious individuals reveal they take far less EPA/DHA (on average) than is needed to derive the expected benefits.
What Makes Fish Oil Different Than Other Supplements?
When one looks are the expenses involved in harvesting, stabilizing, filtering, distilling, and standardizing quality fish oil, it is remarkable that it is not a high-priced nutrient.
Unlike low-cost supplements such as vitamin D, it is not yet possible to synthesize fish oil EPA/DHA. That means the nutrient has to be first fished from the ocean and then meticulously processed to obtain purified and stabilized omega-3 fatty acids.
There are several areas that consumers should be aware of in choosing a fish oil with the goal of optimizing their daily intake of EPA and DHA.
Fortunately, advanced stabilizing/distillation techniques are providing solutions to each of these areas.
Guarding Against Environmental Pollutants
Contamination has been an ongoing concern with health-conscious consumers.
Wild-living, oil-producing fish are exposed to environmental pollutants, some of which may become concentrated in the animals’ livers, the primary oil-providing organ.
These contaminants can include mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and organochlorine pesticides, all of which have the potential to cause ill effects in humans.61,62
The latest fish oil harvesting strategy involves using fish obtained from pristine ocean waters that have lower levels of contaminants to begin with. A new source has been identified that uses fish obtained from Alaska’s Bering Sea, which then goes through extraordinary production measures to eliminate any concerns of contamination and rancidity.
Here is an overview of the eight steps used to produce ultra-purified fish oil with a higher EPA/DHA concentration:
- Upon harvesting from pristine Alaskan waters, the fish are kept in chilled seawater tanks to guard against initial degradation.
- The oil is carefully separated from the solid parts, quickly packed into oxygen-tight bags, and sent on to the EPA and DHA refining process.
- The initial pretreatment involves distillation of the raw fish oil to draw off any oxidation products, cholesterol, PCBs, and other environmental contaminants, yielding a purer starting product.
- A flash distillation technique is used to separate and concentrate the beneficial EPA and DHA from other fats, and further remove contaminants.
- A cold extraction process gently concentrates the fish oil to provide a higher percentage of EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
- A molecular distillation technique deodorizes fishy odor and taste, then further removes pollutants and any oxidation products.
- This double-distilled fish oil is then filtered to remove any residual dioxins, heavy metals, and chlorinated pollutants using an activated carbon filtration media.
- This ultra-purified fish oil is then packaged with inert gases such as argon to displace any residual oxygen, thus solidly protecting the long-term freshness during shipping and storage.
When looking at the relative low price for a bottle of quality fish oil softgels, one should salute the free market for being able to efficiently produce such a stabilized, purified, and standardized product that starts off with a material (cold-water fish) obtained from open natural sources.
Protecting Against Rancidity (Oxidation)
Assuring freshness of a fish oil supplement is always a challenge. That’s because polyunsaturated omega-3s are highly susceptible to oxidizing degradation.
Oxidation reduces the EPA/DHA potency of the oil, produces off-tastes and smells of rancid fats, and can generate free radicals in whoever ingests it.
A fish oil blend derived from pristine Alaskan coastal waters utilizes a multi step process to remain exceptionally fresh. The result is a fish oil that has a greater than 5-fold reduction in the upper level threshold measurement for oxidation, adding a new definition to the word “quality.”
A measurement of total oxidation value is used to assess the amount of oxidized fats permitted in a fish oil supplement. The maximum standard for quality fish oils for total oxidation value has been up to 26. A newly identified Alaskan-derived fish oil blend reduces the upper level threshold for this measure of rancidity down to 5.
Please know that total oxidation values up to 26 are safe and long established in the fish oil industry. Reducing this upper threshold down to 5 represents a major improvement in ensuring fish oil freshness and tolerability.
Another measurement of freshness looks at current oxidation levels by assaying for peroxides. Industry standards for quality fish oil permits up to a 5.0 milliequivalent per kilogram peroxide reading. This new Alaskan-derived fish oil blend reduces the maximum upper level threshold peroxide measure to a virtually nonexistent 1.0 milliequivalent per kilogram, with actual peroxide values measuring at a fraction of that limit.
The final analysis of fish oil freshness looks at past oxidation levels and measures of aldehyde production during handling and storage. This test measures anisidine levels and permits a maximum value of 20. The maximum anisidine standard of the new Alaskan-derived fish oil blend does not exceed 5.
These ultra-low oxidation standards are obtained by using only freshly caught fish, carefully removing all traces of oxidation through multiple refining processes, and then aggressively purging oxygen using nitrogen and argon gases to prevent rancidity from initiating in storage. This ensures an exceptionally fresh oil blend and a very long shelf-life.
This new level of freshness is especially important to those with gastric sensitivities to fish oil supplements. The extra-purification processes remove oxidation products that can help reduce the burping and other digestive discomforts that preclude some people from ingesting enough omega-3s.
This problem was especially evident in the 1980s-1990s when fish oil was not nearly as well-protected against rancidity as it is today. The latest purification processes described in this article will make fish oil more tolerable, and thus enable a greater percentage of the public to ingest this health promoting nutrient. (Those who remain hypersensitive to fish oil may continue using enteric-coated fish oil supplements.)
Ensuring Wild Fish Sustainability
Sustainability of wild fish stocks is a global concern, as overfishing threatens breeding populations. Major commercial fisheries like the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank Atlantic Cod fisheries have been overexploited, and they are now a mere shadow of their former abundance.63
Fisheries off the coast of Alaska remain robust because of the painful lessons learned through the collapse of the New England fisheries. These Alaskan fisheries are operated under the watchful guidance of the US Government and the State of Alaska.
They ensure that only US-flagged vessels and US-owned companies strictly follow the fishing quotas set by scientific surveys of the biomass. The Alaska Pollock fishery in particular is held up as the gold standard of responsible fisheries management around the world. This fishery is managed not for the short term, but to ensure that this abundant natural resource is available to provide healthful food for generations to come. Sustainable fisheries management is even written into the Alaska State Constitution!64
The Alaska Pollock currently exists in abundant populations that are not overexploited, permitting ample harvesting at just 50% of the Acceptable Biological Catch, meaning that plenty of breeding fish remain free to sustain and grow the entire biomass. The fishery is also managed to ensure that protected species like the Stellar Sea Lion are able to thrive in “no-catch” zones.65
Sustainability is not just concerned with the amount of fish that are caught from a fishery. A major impact to consider is what fish may end up in the net. Alaska Pollock are a tightly schooling fish that are captured with a very low-impact, mid-water catch technique.66
This fishing technique does not drag the bottom of the ocean indiscriminately, but is very specific, so that less than 1% of the total catch consists of other species.67
Furthermore, most of the non-target species are other sustainably managed Alaskan fish, such as Cod or Salmon, not birds, sea lions, seals, or other apex predators. Bycatch is a huge problem for the health of sustainable fisheries around the world.68
Indeed, because of the conservative management of the fishery, there has been a recent 60% increase in the total biomass of pollock, according to a 2014 statement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).69
The explosion of scientific evidence favoring fish oil supplementation for heart, brain, and overall health has, until recently, outpaced the availability of highly concentrated, highly purified oils from sustainable sources.
This has left consumers with concerns about potential contaminants, freshness, and the long-term environmental impact of fish oil harvesting.
Novel manufacturing techniques coupled with sourcing fish only from certified sustainable fisheries in Alaska has now made it possible to choose clean, pure, fresh omega-3 oil for generations to come without fears for the environment.
For further information about the unique aspects of this newly available Alaskan-derived fish oil blend, see page 42.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
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