What’s In My Fish Oil Supplements?

Do You Understand the Fish Oil Label?

What’s in my fish oil supplements? That was my question too after reading a recent article? According to testing done by several independent labs recently, many fish oil supplements on the market don’t contain what their labels say they do.

If you’ve been relying on the amount of omega-3 fatty acids stated on your fish oil’s label like I have, this is troubling. 

I thought I was taking the right amount of omega-3 fatty acids, but if I can’t believe the labels . . . how do I really know what’s in fish oil supplements? How do I find a good fish oil supplement that I can trust?

This page is the result of my research to answer these questions.

Quick Links

Understanding Fish Oil Supplements Labels Is Important

Is the Label on My Fish Oil Supplements Accurate?

Omega-3 Fatty Acids, How Much Should I Take?

What the FDA Does Not Do for Fish Oil Supplements

About Certificates of Analysis

Why IFOS Certification Is Better

What Is the International Fish Oil Standards Program (IFOS)

How Does the IFOS Program Work & What Does It Test For

Use IFOS to Find Fish Oil Supplements You Can Trust.


Understanding Fish Oil Supplement Labels 

1,200 mg of fish oil is not the same as 1,200 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. You have to use the label on the back of the container to determine the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in a fish oil supplement.

The omega-3 content is almost never listed on the front of the container. In fact, the front label of fish oil supplement containers is often misleading. 

1,200 milligrams may be displayed on the front very prominently, but that’s usually referring to a single serving of the oil itself, not the omega-3 fatty acid content.

So it’s very important that you look at, and understand the “Supplement Facts” label on the back of the fish oil container.

These labels aren't always accurate listings of what's in my fish oil supplements

This label defines what a Serving Size is (usually in the upper left like the one above). It also lists each ingredient and the amount of that ingredient in a single serving.

The two most important numbers on this label are the:

1.  Serving Size (number of softgels that provide the listed amounts) 
–  For the product above, a single serving size is 4 softgels, for a different product it might be two softgels!

2.  Omega-3 content of a single serving 
– To determine the total omega-3 content of a single serving, you have to add the EPA and DHA numbers. For the product above, the total omega-3 yield is 700 mg + 500 mg = 1,200 mg. But notice that the total amount of fish oil in a single serving is 2,000 mg .

If you didn’t look at the Supplement Facts label on the back of the container, you might assume a single serving is one softgel. If you did that with the fish oil above, you would be getting far less omega-3 fatty acids than you think.

Get Medical Advice

As a word of caution, due to health concerns, some people should not take large doses of a fish oil supplement every day.

Just to make sure you’re not in that category, get a recommendation from your doctor, a nutritionist or other health care worker.

He or she will know if you should limit the daily amount of omega-3 fatty acids that you take. He or she will also recommend the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that will be the most beneficial for you.

My doctor says that over 3.0 mg of omega-3 fatty acids is considered a large dose. He said about 2.5 mg would be a good amount for me (remember you add EPA and DHA to get the omega-3 total).

Fish Oil Supplements & the FDA 

I was concerned when recent news reports said that several independent studies found that quite a few fish oil supplements did not actually contain the ingredients marked on their labels.  What?   How can that be?

The FDA requires that a product container must have a label that lists, in detail, all the ingredients in the product.

But guess what, the FDA does no testing to verify that the label is accurate.

Its true. The FDA does test all food and drug products sold in the U.S. but not dietary supplements like fish oil.  The FDA does not have the authority to test and approve fish oil supplements.  So they do no testing.

Of course, most companies claim that the label on their fish oil is accurate. But with no FDA testing required, we’re forced to rely on the company manufacturing the fish oil to tell us the truth. 

If you’re concerned too and want to find out more about the fish oil you are taking, here are some things you can do.

How To Find Out about Your Fish Oil

First, request a Certificate Of Analysis (COA) for your fish oil supplement. The COA is an official company document that states, in detail, what’s in the fish oil and what’s not.

Call up the company and have them email the COA to you. Some will do it, but many won’t. Instead they’ll tell you something like, “Our product complies with all quality specifications and regulations.”

If a company can’t (or won’t) provide you with a COA for their fish oil supplement, it’s time for you to move on to another brand.

Even when a company does send you a COA, you have to check to see whether it is a “Representative COA”, or a “Lot-Specific COA”. Why is this important?

A Representative COA

Many companies have their products tested and analyzed regularly, but that’s not the same as testing every production run. For example, a company might have their production tested every two weeks.

The resulting COA would be representative of all the production runs for those weeks. But in the real world product quality can change between production runs, and often does.  

So a representative COA does not guarantee that the fish oil in your container contains what the COA says it does, and neither does it’s label. 

For that guarantee, what you want is a Lot-Specific COA.

A Lot-Specific COA

A lot-specific COA is much more meaningful than a representative one. It’s a guarantee that the fish oil in a specific container has been analyzed, and that it contains what the label says it does. 

It costs a lot of money and effort to provide Lot-Specific COAs. A company either needs to have a quality control team at it’s manufacturing facilities, or it must have a third party to do the testing and analysis for them.

Such a third party already exists for the worldwide fish oil supplement industry – the International Fish Oil Standards™ Program (IFOS™).

The IFOS program is run by a private Canadian consulting and testing company, NutraSource Diagnostics Inc.  NDI provides third party services to the global health products industry. 

FREE, Online Fish Oil Analysis Reports

The great thing about the IFOS program is that the results of their testing and analysis are available on the internet anytime you want to look at them. And they are FREE – no cost to you – no membership required.

The reports are easy to understand too. Take a look at a couple of the IFOS Consumer Reports here.

The IFOS reports can be found on the IFOS website listed by company name, product name and batch numbers. Here’s an IFOS guide that explains how to find the reports on their website.

IFOS Certification Is Available To Everyone

So why don’t all fish oil supplement companies have their supplements tested and certified by the IFOS program? 

Maybe it’s because companies have to pay for an IFOS subscription. Or maybe it’s because IFOS testing results are FREE to consumers and published online for all to see.

If your company’s fish oil does not match the ingredients stated on the label, would you pay someone to publish that information on the internet? 

It seems to me that companies that do have their products analyzed by IFOS are companies that can be trusted. 

Make IFOS Certification A Requirement

I suggest that you save yourself a lot of time and concern by buying only fish oil supplements that are certified by IFOS.

A company that pays to have each of it’s production runs tested and analyzed by a world-renowned, independent third party must be a company committed to producing high quality fish oil supplements. 

The fact that the results of the testing is available FREE on the internet is also impressive. 

If you’re like me, you just want to make sure your taking a fish oil supplement that is good quality. And if it has IFOS certification, the label really does tell you what’s in your fish oil supplement.

There must be good fish oil supplements with accurate labels that haven’t been certified by IFOS. But why gamble, I decided that if it hasn’t been certified by IFOS, I’ll skip it and find one that has. 

The International Fish Oil Standards™ Program

IFOS certifies what's in my fish oil supplements

The International Fish Oil Standards™ (IFOS™) Program provides independent testing and certification of Omega-3 fish oil products and supplements. 

In addition to the IFOS program, NDI serves the food and beverage, the pharmaceuticals, and the cosmetics industries.

Since 2004, NDI’s world-renowned IFOS program has a track record of maintaining high standards, practicing full disclosure and offering full public transparency. 

NDI doesn’t manufacture or market fish oil. They test omega-3 fish oil products, and they publish the test results. That’s all they do.

How Does IFOS work? 

Fish oil supplement manufacturers pay for a subscription to the IFOS program.

IFOS then independently:

– Tests and analyzes each of the company’s fish oil production runs
– Assigns a batch or lot number to each production run

For companies that have received IFOS ProgramIf it has an IFOS Logo, it accurately lists what's in my fish oil supplements
certification, the IFOS logo and the certified
batch number are marked somewhere on every fish oil container (not always together).

The label detailing the fish oil ingredients is typically on the back of the container.  

– Provides the results of the testing and analysis to the company

– Publishes a detailed, public report about each batch on the IFOS website

What Does IFOS Test For?

IFOS certifies the quality of fish oil supplements in many areas but three of the most important are:

IFOS testing verifies that a specific fish oil production run:

1.  Contains at least the amount of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) stated on the label
2.  Does not contain harmful levels of contaminants (heavy metals or PCBs, etc.)
3.  Is fresh for consumption (not rancid and will not turn rancid rapidly).

IFOS certification is basically a detailed Lot Specific COA. However, the online reports are much easier to read and understand than the typical COA.

IFOS Fish Oil Supplements On Amazon

I wanted to find a good fish oil supplement, but I also wanted to get it for a good price.  

Instead of making shopping trips to all the stores in my area, I searched through the fish oil supplements on Amazon to find ones that also had reports on the IFOS website.

Four Certified Fish Oil Supplements

These four fish oil supplements offer a choice of different serving sizes and different amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. You can trust that the labels are accurate, so just find one that has the amount of fatty acids right for you. 

I don’t recommend one of these brands over the others, they are all IFOS certified.

When you click on a link below, that supplement’s Amazon page will open in a new tab in your browser. You can read the Supplement Facts label there, as well as lots of customer reviews, and you can see the price.

Then come back here and click on the next in the list to compare it’s Facts label and it’s reviews.

Carlson Super Omega 3 Gems

Life Extension Super Omega 3

NutriGold Triple Strength Omega 3

Viva Labs Ultra Strength Omega 3 Fish Oil

You can also read the IFOS report by searching for it here.  I hope one of these supplements will fit your needs.

But if you’re not happy with any of them, use the same process I did and keep searching. There are many fish oil supplements available on Amazon.com and . . .  there are over 100 fish oil brands to choose from on the IFOS website.