When Oils Ain’t Oils

fish-oil-456I often talk to patients about fish oils. The usual response is that they are using one they picked up at the chemist or super market.

‘What ever was cheapest at the time – ’cause they’re all the same right?’

Um.. No..

Fish oils are quite different actually.

Different oils, and different combinations of oils, do very different jobs.

Also the quality of the oils, how the fish are fed and what type of fish provide the oils will impact on the efficiency of the oil. It is not only just about the cost.

So why spend more on a ‘quality’ fish oil, rather than just picking up a value pack from the chemist?

Fish sources

A major difference between inferior fish oils and superior fish oils is the source. The fact is, all fish oils can actually be separated into several different types, or grades, dependent on the source of the oil.

These grades vary dramatically in quality, consistency, safety and effectiveness.

In the old days, the most common type of fish oil was cod liver oil. Though cod liver oil is high in omega-3’s, it is considered low grade due to its high percentage of contaminates – along with the omega-3’s, you’ll also receive high levels of mercury, pesticides, solvents, and peroxides.

Nowadays, the best quality fish oils are sourced from cold and salt water fish like anchovies, sardines, mackerel and even krill. These are pure sources of fish oil that contain little contamination or heavy metals.

Generally, the cheap kinds of fish oils are sourced from sharks, cod, tuna, salmon and other ‘waste’ fish sources – all of which are known to contain high levels of mercury and other contaminates.


In order for a fish oil to be virtually free from contaminates, it must undergo an extensive (and often expensive) filtration and distillation process during manufacture.

Levels of contamination is a concern we see expressed time and time again, and for good reason.

The best fish oils undergo a lengthy molecular distillation process that separates dangerous mercury and lead from the oil, while concentrating it for higher omega-3 levels.

These fish oils are well under Australian standards for levels of pesticides, solvents and heavy metals, so you know that you are only swallowing fish oil, and nothing else.

Molecular distillation is an expensive process, which is why many cheaper brands do not undertake it.

Without proper distillation, the fish oils can contain high levels of dangerous contaminates. Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to stop this evasion from happening, and these cheap fish oils continue to be rolled out.

Only after this precise molecular distillation process has been undertaken, and when the fish oil is regularly tested and passed to have low levels of contamination can they be referred to as ‘Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil’.

Because of the process, you can be sure that even the smallest particles of contamination are removed, resulting in a fish oil that is approximately 1000 times more pure than any chemist grade fish oil.


Heavy metals like mercury, lead, arsenic and pesticides are considered oxidants. They are detrimental to your health, attacking healthy cells and causing illness and disease. Recent attention on antioxidants and ‘free radical damage’ has highlighted the importance of reducing oxidants in the body.

Unfortunately, for those who are taking an antioxidant supplement, a cheap fish oil may be erasing all your hard work.

A top, pharmaceutical-grade fish-oil derived omega-3 supplement is actually one of nature’s best antioxidants. It has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier, helping to prevent the incidence of strokes, heart attacks and inflammatory conditions.

Concentration and Ratios

An obvious difference between a good fish oil and a ‘great’ fish oil is the strength.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘each capsule contains 1 gram of fish oil!’ claims. If each tablet weighs 1 gram, then of course it contains 1 gram of fish oil.

The difference is in the concentration of omega-3’s in that capsule.

The top pharmaceutical-grade fish oils contains high ratios of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid).

For example, Metagenics Meta EPA/DHA contains 300mg of EPA, and 200mg of DHA.

In comparison, a cheaper brand like Enervite’s ‘Super Fish Oil’ contains only 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA. Though it may seem cheaper, you’ll need to take almost 4 times as many Cenovis capsules for just one of the Metagenics brand.

And you think you’re saving yourself money.

For maintenance of general health, fish oil needs to contain appropriate ratios. It is known that EPA is important for the treatment and reduction of inflammation, reduction of strokes and heart attack prevention.

DHA is important for foetus development, cognition and brain development. Many cheaper brands simply ‘throw in’ what they can get.

Pharmaceutical Grade

As discussed, there are a few different ‘grades’ of fish oil that are available. 

Scarily, not all products are TGA approved (Therapeutic Goods Administration – the governing body for natural medicine). This means that they have not undergone the strict quality testing required for approval – and they can be sold at any store that wishes to do so.

This type of untested fish oil supplement is generally referred to as ‘supermarket’ grade.

The next grade, ‘health food store’ grade is generally available in your local health food store or chemist.

These are often TGA approved, however they have not undergone rigorous testing in order to fully minimise the levels of contamination and toxicity. This grade generally contains low concentrations of contamination, and low levels of omega-3’s.

The highest level available is ‘Pharmaceutical-Grade’ fish oils. These fish oils represent the best in fish oil products available. They have undergone rigorous and ongoing testing, surpassing TGA expectations and ensuring that every single capsule contains molecularly distilled fish oil.

Because of the highly expensive testing and production, very few brands make this grade.

The Spinal Centre’s Comment:

There are many fish oil products on the market. However we have found that many are poorly absorbed (i.e. patients get that awful “fishy reflux”), the concentration of the fish oil is very low and the fish are “farmed”.

Farmed fish as a source of fish oil is an example of complete stupidity.

Farmed fish become high in heavy metal contaminant – particularly lead and mercury.

Farmed fish are often fed GRAINS which completely changes the nature and quality of the fish oils they produce. Farmed fish omega 3 fatty acids will be significantly lowered. A fact that suppliers may neglect to tell you.

If you are going to take a fish oil supplement (or any supplement), you should get the best quality available. Unfortunately buying fish oil is not as simple as just grabbing the cheapest off the shelf – it really should be prescribed specifically for your case by your practitioner. So talk to Dr. Hooper or the Team on your next visit.

Literally thousands of product flyers and ads cross The Spinal Centre’s desks every year. Only a couple out of every hundred make the cut.

The majority of products available on The Spinal Centre surpass TGA standards, so we can be sure of the quality and research that has gone into every capsule.

The Spinal Centre’s Best Fish Oils

Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely beneficial to your health, but if you purchase a low-grade product that contain many contaminants, you could just end up doing yourself more harm than good.

Heart attack and stroke prevention, optimal brain function, memory, mental well-being, anti-inflammation and lower cholesterol are a few of the many benefits of taking a top fish oil.

Pharmaceutical-grade brands are usually only available in-clinic or by prescription. One of the Team can prescribe these medications at the Practice or in the eClinic.

We stock the best fish oil supplements available in Australia – including Metagenics, Bioceuticals and Eagle Pharmaceuticals – all backed by extensive research and quality control.

Browse to The Spinal Centres Best Fish Oils.

In this economic-focused climate, it can be tempting to just grab the cheap, bulk pack from the chemist, but we hope that this article stands to show the disadvantages and dangers of doing just that.

On the subject of expense, you need to consider the purity and concentration of the product you are taking. Indeed, some of the fish oils we offer are up to 6 times as strong as cheap brands.

The bottom line? Educate yourself. Stop wasting your money on cheap, nasty fish oils and invest in the best fish oil you can buy.