Labels on fish oil tablet bottles 'inaccurate'

23 January, 2015

A recent study of 32 brands of fish oil tablets sold in Australia and New Zealand has found only three contained the amount of omega-3 their labels claimed they had.

The labels of fish oil brands claim each capsule contains a minimum of 120 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 180 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). However joint research done by scientists from University of Auckland, the University of Newcastle and UNSW found most brands contained just half those two amounts.

Patients 'should up their dosage'

Fish oil tablets are consumed to lower the amount of triglycerides in the blood and reduce joint swelling associated with arthritis. Nutrition expert Professor Peter Clifton said the findings came as a huge surprise.

"People may think that the capsules are not working (but) it may be as a result of them not taking enough because they think they're taking a certain dose and they're not," Prof Clifton said.

Moving forward, he said patients could up their daily intake to make up for the shortfall.

TGA to review

A spokeswoman from the Therapeutic Goods Association said the TGA was aware the amount of omega-3 could be lower than otherwise claimed on labels.

"The TGA is reviewing this information to see whether any action is required in the Australian context," she said.

"The TGA is consulting with Food Standards Australia about this."

Pill firms 'may be in hot water'

Tom Godfrey from consumer watchdog Choice said pill companies could find themselves in trouble.

"The TGA guidelines state fish oil products must contain at least 90 per cent of the amount of EPA and DHA they claim to contain. If these products only contain 50 per cent of the stated ingredients and the companies have been inflating the active ingredient claims to lure in consumers, then these pill producers could find themselves in hot water," Godfrey said.

Study had "limitations"

Blackmores released a statement last week casting doubt on the validity of the study's findings, saying the authors of the research had admitted their testing had some "limitations".

The statement outlined that these included: the supplements tested being bought from a single store; no brands being named; and the testing methodology which was applied to produce the results.

Blackmores CEO Richard Henfrey said the brand's tablet quality was "assured".

"Our fish oil is independently tested a minimum of three times for EPA and DHA levels from the time the fish are harvested until the capsules are bottled," he said.

"In recent years there has been much discussion about the most accurate test methodology for EPA and DHA in fish oil (and) we use a current validated test methodology to ensure that our products maintain their freshness, quality and are true to label.

"We are also aware that poor storage of supplements can have a significant negative effect on the product, and this should be taken into account when assessing test results."