Are Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oils just a gimmick?
Recently, Dr. Mehmet Oz’ show featured a segment on fish oil.
In the segment, guest, Dr. Tod Cooperman of ConsumerLab.com, discussed various dietary supplements.
In this bit, Dr. Cooperman mentioned that ‘Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil‘ was a marketing gimmick and that such a thing does not exist.
Is there any truth to this?
Dr. Cooperman is half right.
He’s right that there is no formal FDA definition of ‘Pharmaceutical grade fish oil,’ and that it is a term coined by fish oil manufacturers.
But a gimmick, it’s not!
The fish oil was Anchovy oil with about 20 to 25% Omega-3. At the time, this was amazing progress.
25% Omega-3? Wow! Fantastic!
With those pills, a 1000 mg fish oil pill would give you about 250 mg of Omega-3.
I recall when a scientist friend of mine sat me down and said, ‘You realize that you have to take almost a dozen of those to get any benefit, right?’
I was stunned for a moment.
And then I realized that she was right. So I increased my dosage from one pill per day to 4 or 5. There’s no way I was going to take a dozen a day! I’d go broke! And smell like a fisherman!
So till about the turn of the century, 25% Omega-3 was about all we had.
We didn’t know any better.
Enter Super Omega!
This was a newer, more potent oil with as much as 50% Omega-3.
50% Omega-3? Wow! Fantastic!
Now I only had to take 6 honking pills a day to reduce my triglycerides.
All was well. We didn’t know any better.
Then came 60% Omega-3. Whoa! Let’s not get crazy there, fella!
Larger View of Chart
By this time, health food stores were selling a ton of these new oils. But nobody knew what to call them. Certainly these new oils were much better than the old ones.
It was not your father’s Oldsmobile.
Then, the famous Dr. Barry Sears coined the term ‘Pharmaceutical grade fish oil‘ to help distinguish this new double-strength fish oil from the lowly 25% stuff.
He was fully justified. After all, the same pill had twice the Omega-3 goodies.
Pharmaceutical grade. It had a nice ring to it. So it stuck.
So is calling it ‘pharmaceutical grade’ a gimmick?
Here’s what Pharmaceutical Grade means:
- It means fewer pills.
- It means twice or three times the amount of Omega-3.
- It means less of the other stuff that’s not Omega-3.
- It means feeling the benefits you’re supposed to.
- It means more effective.
Fast forward a few more years. Out comes Lovaza with 85% Omega-3. But you had to go to your doctor to get a prescription first. And if your insurance is anything like mine, it also costs $160 per month.
Around 2008, a few supplements with 85 to 90% Omega-3 were launched. OmegaVia is one of them.
You didn’t need a prescription. And it didn’t cost $160 every month.
Today, you can buy supplements that are as pure or purer than prescription fish oil.
These prescription strength fish oils need to be distinguished from the 25% Omega-3 oils at the corner drug store that sell for $3.99 a bottle.
So we call it pharmaceutical grade.
Or Clinical Strength.
Or Prescription Strength.
People who read and understand the supplement facts on a fish oil label ‘get it’.
Call it a marketing gimmick if it makes you happy.
And that’s just fine by me.
COUNTER POINT: A gimmick in plain sight?
Here’s an example of a label I saw at Albertsons this afternoon:
It says PHARMACEUTICAL GRADE in red, all-cap letters.
Here’s the front of the label.
And here is the back of the label.
This 1200 mg pill has 360 mg of Omega-3. So this fish oil contains only 30% Omega-3.
It’s not 50%, 60%, let alone 85%.
In this case, Dr. Tod Cooperman is right. This one looks like a gimmick.
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About the Author: Vin Kutty, MS, is co-founder of Innovix Pharma. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with 20 years of experience.