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Dr. Mehmet Oz & Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil

by Vin Kutty, MS on October 22, 2011

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!

As Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story:

Back in the dark ages of the fish oil supplementation, say early 1990s, we had cod liver oils and one kind of fish oil.

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?

Absolutely not!

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.

Lovaza: the first prescription fish oil

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.

pharmaceutical grade fish oil vs regular fish oil

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.
example of pharmaceutical grade fish oil

And here is the back of the label.

pharmaceutical grade fish oil label supplement facts box

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.

DISCLAIMER: This website is for your education and general health information only. The ideas and suggestions contained on this website are not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from your doctor for any health condition or problem. Users of this website should not rely on information provided on this website for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician.

Author Vin Kutty is an expert on fish oil About the Author: Vin Kutty is OmegaVia’s Scientific Advisor and Chief Blogger. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with over 20 years of experience. Email him.

pharmaceutical grade fish oil

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