Due to hectic lifestyles, over-indulgent diets and increasing societal affluence, the trend of consuming supplements seems to be on the rise around the globe. People are seeking ways to enhance their well-being by taking supplements to bridge nutritional gaps and protect themselves against the lifestyles they lead.
Biotechin.Asia is honored to have invited Ms. Jacqueline Wee, a pharmacist as well as the sole distributor of WHC Nutrogenics fish oil supplements, to discuss issues pertaining to fish oil supplements in the market; and the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, the main constituent in fish oil supplements.
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids consist of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). They are found in cold-water fishes, such as the Pacific Sardines, Black Cods and Wild Alaskan Salmons.
EPA is crucial in maintaining joint and mental health, and is constantly in demand by the body from ages 5 – 65. DHA aids in the brain development of fetuses in expectant mothers. It is also heavily concentrated in the brain and the eyes, responsible for their optimal function.
Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Strong scientific evidence on the consumption of Omega-3 on a daily basis has shown the following:
1. Prevention of coronary heart disease
2. Reduction of triglyceride levels in blood
3. Reduction of blood pressure
4. Reduction in mortality of patients who already have established coronary heart disease
What is the recommended intake of Omega-3?
According to the American Heart Association, “Consumers without coronary heart disease, i.e. for general health, are recommended to consume cold-water (fatty) fish twice a week, which equates to 300 – 500 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily. Consumers with coronary heart disease are recommended to consume about 900 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily.”
Consume Fish or Fish Oil Supplements?
According to Ms Wee, there are 3 factors that determine the choice to consume Omega-3:
1. The individual’s reason for consuming fish oil
Fish, in its natural state, is able to provide additional lean protein and iron on top of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil supplements are concentrated with Omega-3 content in amounts that may be impractical to be obtained by diet alone. It is also a choice for those who dislike the taste of oily fish but wants to benefit from the goodness of Omega-3.
It is expensive to source for and buy fish rich in Omega-3 that at the same time, are certified to be eco-sustainable.
3. Goal of therapy
Fish oil supplements provide a high content of Omega-3 while being practical, as seen in patients with coronary heart disease who require a relatively high intake of Omega-3 fatty acids that cannot be fulfilled by fish alone.
Mislabeled Supplements in the Market
It is common occurrence to have products bought off the shelves and tested, only to show that their composition percentages are different from those stated on their packaging boxes. This inaccurate labeling may seem to be more prevalent than thought, due to less stringent regulations imposed on supplements as compared to medicine, and also, the lack of supplement watchdogs.
Some effects of inaccurate labeling include:
1. The amount of Omega-3 you are getting is actually lower than that stated on the label
2. Undeclared allergens, which may trigger severe allergic reactions when products are consumed
What do consumers need to be aware of when purchasing fish oil supplements?
Ms Wee advised that consumers pay attention to the following:
1. Omega-3 content
Consumers need to look at the fine print and serving size that are stated on labels. Different serving sizes will determine the number of capsules to be taken to satisfy the required intake, and the product’s value for money.
Although it is inevitable for products from natural sources to be subjected to contamination, however, it is the duty of the manufacturer to minimize and keep the products as pure as possible. Consumers need to look for fish oil supplements with seals or certificates of purity, such as those from the International Fish Oils Standards Program (IFOS).
*IFOS is a third-party certification lab where products can be tested and certified for purity, potency and quality.
As oils are prone to turning rancid (degraded), not only are consumers unable to get the effects of Omega-3, but the release of ethanol as one of the by-products may be harmful to children and babies, who are more susceptible to side effects. Consumers need to look out for processes manufacturers have put in place to ensure freshness, such as those that prevent oxidation of fish oils, as well as individually blister-packed products.
Consumers need to be aware of the different forms of fish oil supplements available – gummies, chewable capsules, liquids, capsules etc. It has been shown that fish oils in the form of gummies and chewable capsules, which are popular amongst younger consumers, contain less than 50% of Omega-3. This means that they are in fact consuming sugar, fillers, and coloring instead. Shockingly, studies have revealed that for some brands, up to 12 gummies were required to obtain the sufficient Omega-3 content required by younger consumers. On the other hand, liquids are easy to consume but also contain less EPA and DHA.
There is no doubt that supplements are able to enhance a person’s well-being. However, to prevent any unforeseen circumstances, as Ms Wee stressed during the interview, “always consult the pharmacist or doctor.”