Nearly four years ago, we released our first series of blogs and a whitepaper on the rampant rancidity problem within the omega-3 industry. Since then, freshness has thankfully become a recognized topic – cropping up everywhere from the New York Times to the latest GOED summits (that’s the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s).
For all our sakes, freshness should a trending consumer conversation. Recent research demonstrates the superiority of fresh fish oil to rancid oil, and other studies indicate that excessively oxidized oil can be a health hazard. Still, this is a topic that desperately needs more examination as the term “freshness” gets tossed around.
What qualifies an oil as fresh? And why should we care? Let’s take a look at what the research has to show us:
What Happens When You Compare More And Less Oxidized Oil?
When we wrote about freshness in 2012, the health implications of consuming rancid oil were still unclear. While plenty of animal studies could document the health consequences of consuming rancid oil, we hadn’t seen studies done on human health — perhaps for ethical reasons.
Then a study from Spain took on the issue – Garcia-Hernández et al (3). The researchers divided 52 women into three different groups: one that consumed less oxidized omega-3 capsules, one that consumed highly oxidized omega-3 capsules, and a third that received no capsules. After thirty days, they measured the women’s triglyceride and cholesterol levels. The result? The women who received the less oxidized capsules had reduced triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
On the other hand, the women in the highly oxidized capsule group saw a negative impact on their cholesterol levels. The oxidized oil was not just less effective than the less oxidized oil; it produced a bad health consequence for the women.
Could Rancid Fish Oil Explain Mixed Omega-3 Results?
Garcia-Hernández et al. is just one study, and within the scientific world, one study proves little. When coupled with what we know from animal research, however, the results are concerning. In studies on rats, oxidized fatty acids led to organ damage and inflammation, among other problems. In addition, researchers speculate that oxidized oil may also cause carcinogenesis and arteriosclerosis (1).
Numerous researchers from around the world suggest that oxidized oil could explain why recent omega-3 literature is coming up a mixed bag of results (1, 5). Certainly if Garcia-Hernández’s study is any indication, this seems a valid concern, particularly for studies conducted on heart health. Unfortunately, it is hard to determine since almost no research studies to date report the oxidative status of their oil.
For consumers, there’s also frustratingly little quality control when it comes to freshness. Neither the FDA nor the World Health Organization have outlined freshness requirements for omega-3 companies to follow. As for the international standards provided by the likes of GOED and the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), companies can voluntarily choose to meet them.
Varying Freshness Standards
To get an impression of a fish oil’s freshness level, one can start by measuring the oil’s peroxide value. Typically, the lower the peroxide value, the fresher the oil. To complicate matters, however, scientists still dispute what is an acceptable peroxide value. GOED and CRN currently set their requirement for the peroxide level of a fish oil product at 5 mEq/kg (2); yet other researchers suggest that 2 mEq/kg would be a better upper limit (5). Still others write that a truly fresh oil would have a peroxide value below 1 mEq/kg (4).
It is worth noting that almost no commercially available fish oils have a peroxide value below 2 mEq/kg (4), which explains why the great majority of the products on the market have a strong fishy taste and smell.
To give you a better reference point, Omega Cure®’s peroxide value typically clocks in at 0.1 mEq/kg – hence the absence of any fishy taste or smell.
Setting a Higher Standard for Freshness
Freshness is a complicated subject. But if we’re going to get closer to providing people with good information and excellent nutrition, it’s important that scientists, manufacturers and consumers start having honest, open conversations now.
Here at Omega3 Innovations, we’d like to start the movement by making you aware of the oxidation values of each batch of Omega Cure. In the coming weeks, we will start printing the peroxide and anisidine levels of your oil, as well as the date we measured those numbers. You will find this information on the side of your Omega Cure bottles and your Omega Cure Extra Strength boxes. This way, you will have a clear idea of the quality and freshness level of the oil you are putting in your body.
Since we ship your Omega Cure quickly after bottling, you will have a close reading of your oil’s freshness at the time of arrival. But please be aware, oxidation levels change with time. The oil inside a fish oil capsule may have been fresh when it was first encapsulated, but with a few months dusting on a shelf at room temperature, the oil’s peroxide value has likely multiplied.
Similarly, Omega Cure won’t last in your refrigerator for forever. That’s why it is still important to use your taste buds to assess the oil’s freshness. Even without the machine to get an objective numbers, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the quality by using your senses.
If you have questions about Omega Cure and the upcoming oxidation prints we will be putting on the bottles, we encourage you to give us a call, email us or comment here. We look forward to hearing from you!
1. Albert BB, Cameron-Smith D, Hofman PL, Cutfield WS. Oxidation of marine omega-3 supplements and human health. BioMed Research International, vol. 2013, Article ID 464921, 8 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/464921.
2. Fish Oil Standards/Testing Limits from Leading Organizations & Experts. NordicNaturals. http://www.nordicnaturals.com/images/pdfs/ChartTesting.pdf
3. García-Hernández VM, Gallar M, Sánchez-Soriano J, Micol V, Roche E, García-García E. Effect of omega-3 dietary supplements with different oxidation levels in the lipidic profile of women: a randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2013 Dec; 64(8): 993-1000. Epub 2013 July 18.
4. Halvorsen BL, Blomhoff R. Determination of lipid oxidation products in vegetable oils and marine omega-3 supplements. Food & Nutrition Research. 2011; 55: 10.3402/fnr.v55i0.5792. Epub 2011 July 10.
5. Turner R, McLean CH, Silvers KM. Are the health benefits of fish oils limited by products of oxidation? Nutrition Research Reviews (2006), 19, 53–62.