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Buyer beware — Many fish oils are synthetic

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

synthetic omega 3 fish oil

Story at-a-glance -

  • Many fish oil supplements contain synthetic fish oil with questionable efficacy
  • In 2017, Amarin Pharma Inc., the maker of a proprietary prescription formulation of fish oil called Vascepa, filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission, claiming fish oil manufacturers are engaging in unfair trade practices
  • According to Amarin, many fish oil supplements contain synthetic fish oil and not all-natural substances, and as such should fall under the category of “drugs”
  • In fish, the DHA and EPA are in the form of triglycerides, which are the most bioavailable. In most fish oil supplements, the DHA and EPA are delivered in the form of ethyl esters — a synthetic substrate with low bioavailability
  • When taking an ethyl ester fish oil, your liver must process the ethyl alcohol, which may release free radicals and cause oxidative stress — the complete opposite of what you’re trying to achieve by taking a fish oil supplement

As you probably know, fish oil has long been touted as an excellent source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), two marine-based omega-3 fats that are important for brain and heart health.

What may come as a surprise is that many (if not most) fish oil supplements on the market these days contain synthetic fish oil.


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