Fish oil and PCBs

The group consumerlab.com recently released a report on their evaluation of PCBs in fish oil. They had previously tested many brands that for the most part passed their tests for potency (e.g., how much omega-3 fatty acids were in softgel). Nordic Naturals and Jarrow both came through fine. In a recent update, they noted that none of the brands they had previously tested were listed in the suit about PCB contamination (see below).

If you are using other products, it may be best to avoid cod liver or other liver oils. The liver does accumulate toxins like PCBs and it is logical that these oils may be more likely to contain these toxins. The following is the report from consumerlab.com:

Update: 3/11/2010 – Understanding the California Law Suit Over PCBs in Fish Oil Supplements:
A lawsuit was filed on March 2, 2010 by a group that tested ten fish oil supplements and found that all violated California’s Prop 65 labeling requirement because they contained PCBs. While it raises legitimate concerns, the suit may have created some confusion. Here are some points to keep in mind:

* Virtually all fish meat and fish oil supplement will contain some PCBs. The samples chosen were oils made primarily made from larger fish (including shark) and fish “liver,” which tend to have higher amounts of contaminants.
* The majority of the products had extremely low levels of PCBs. Somewhat higher levels were found in a few products. None of these pose a health risk in themselves, but those with higher levels might unnecessarily contribute to PCB exposure. The products are identified by name in a news release about the suit which includes two tables. The first table shows total PCBs. The second table shows the amount of dioxin-like PCBs, which may be more meaningful as it focuses on the subset of PCBs known to be harmful in animal studies. Be aware that results in both tables are skewed against products that suggest higher daily serving sizes.
* To put the findings in perspective, total daily PCBs reported was under 100 nanograms for most supplements and did not exceed 900 nanograms for any. The FDA permits an 8 ounce serving of fish to contain about 450,000 nanograms of total PCBs, 500 times more than in any of the products. The EPA, using a more conservative approach, estimates that the average adult can consume 1,400 nanograms of total PCBs per day without harmful effects.
* None of the products identified in the lawsuit is part of our Product Review of Fish Oil/Omega-3 Supplements.
* One of the products, Nature Made Cod Liver Oil, was tested by us in 2008 as part of our Product Review of Vitamin A Supplements (which includes several cod liver oil supplements due to their significant vitamin A content). The level of dioxin-like PCBs reported in the lawsuit for this product was eight times the amount that we found in 2008. The different findings may be due to inherent differences in the tested products such as the source and batch of fish used and how it was processed, as well as the analytical methods and calculations used (ConsumerLab.com used the well established EPA 1668A method. The method used in the suit is not reported).

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