Sports Nutrition

Fish Oil: Drug or Supplement?

The popular fish oil supplement market has become the latest ground zero in the medias quality control (QC) scrutiny of the natural products industry. As detailed in Controlling Quality in Fish Oil Production (Insider, 2008), the responsible fish oil industry and the Global Organization for EPA and DHA (GOED) have gone through much effort to minimize the existence of contaminants in end-product fish oil.

However, there is no accounting for companies that dont go to all these lengths to ensure quality. Unfortunately, such quality-short companies draw big attention from media and watchdog/testing organizations. Of course, the latest controversy involves Californias Prop 65controversial in its own rightand a lawsuit alleging improper labeling for PCBs and other contaminants. This has brought more attention to the QC of fish oil.

A recent Huffington Post article looks at the latest fish oil issues, including safety and sustainability. Reporter Michael Macher brought up a recent panel discussion on the topic, held by Gusto Organics. Comments by CEOs Chris Speed, Minami Inc.; Tom Newmark, New Chapter Inc.; and Joar Opheim, Nordic Naturals Inc., were highlighted.

The discussion of the blurring line between pharmaceuticals and supplements stood out. According to Macher, Speed called fish oil supplements real pharmaceutical agents and ridiculed the notion boxed supplements in stores could be really considered natural. This isnt too surprising, given Minami prides itself on pharmaceutical purity and process.

Speeds angle was countered by Newmark, who trumpeted whole food fish products over manipulated fish molecules. The approach here is to forgo purification processes by securing a raw material source that is researched for purity and efficacy.

Speed frankly declared a supplement of fish molecules is a drug, not a natural product.

This position could open one lively debate, but there were other interesting observations made by this panel. Machers coverage noted the panel largely agreed there is no such thing as 100-precent contaminant-free fish oil. Speed explained there are contaminants in almost everything found in our modern environment, and the real issue is with poor sourcing and purification.

The article recognizes the research showing numerous health benefits from increased fish oil intake, then concludes the market needs more transparency from fish oil manufacturers. Supplementing this openness should be testing, of course, as is briefly touched upon at the end of the piece. How any of this can be packaged in a way that helps consumers find the high-quality fish oil supplements is a challenge not met in this article, or the panel, seemingly. This has been the great challenge for the supplement industry as a whole.

So, what do you think: are fish oil supplements drugs or natural products? How can the industry establish once and for all, a safe level of contaminants that is recognized by state and national government? Will the fish oil market overcome these challenges and maintain its popularity in consumer markets?

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