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Are foul fish in my omega-3 supplements?

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Whatever the cause it’s no mystery that consumers don’t like the burp and it will affect their buying patterns. Omega-3 mogul Nordic Naturals solved the burp by adding natural lemon flavor to some of their supplements, but that's where the trouble started.

Consumers have clamored for better tasting fish oil because they don’t like the fishy burp that sometimes accompanies omega-3 supplements. I get it. I’m right there with you. But are my foul burps a sign of foul fish?

Adam Ismail, executive director of Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED) assures me that “the biggest factor appears to be peoples’ own bodies. Two people can eat the same oil, and one will get a fish odor in their burp and the other won't.”

So you’re saying it’s just me?

Apparently the fish burp can be addressed in part through capsule coating as well as oil form—“phospholipid forms [krill] tend to create fewer incidences of fish burps than triglyceride or ethyl ester forms [other fish oils],” Ismail explains.

Whatever the cause, it’s no mystery that consumers don’t like the burp and it will affect their buying patterns. Omega-3 mogul Nordic Naturals solved the burp by adding natural lemon flavor to some of their supplements and I can tell you first hand, it works.

Nordic Naturals' fish oil freshness called into question

But here’s where the trouble started. In the past year, Nordic Naturals has had to defend its reputation twice against claims that these same flavored fish oil supps tested high for oxidation measures when subjected to industry tests. The tests in question measure something called anisidine value (AV), which measures the presence of compounds called aldehydes.

“The problem,” says Ismail, “is that there are many kinds of aldehydes” such as the ones that create the citrus scent and taste in something like lemon flavoring. “In a pure fish oil the only aldehydes that will show up are a result of oxidation of the underlying fish oil. When you add a flavoring to the fish oils, you are introducing a product that could have desirable aldehydes that would make an anisidine value test appear high, even though the fish oil to which it was added was extremely fresh.”

A more-than-miffed Nordic Naturals called the test results false positives, and maybe they were, but without an existing test that can differentiate between the AV of the fish oil and the AV of the lemon oil, we’re at an impasse. Keri Marshall, MS, ND, chief medical officer for Nordic Naturals, tells me that they’re working fast and furious to develop a new test to do just that and preliminary results show that the lemon oil is not in fact fouling the fish. They will be publishing the definitive results in 2012.

In the meantime, if you’re concerned about the freshness of your fish oil—flavored or otherwise—your best bet is to bite right into it and give it a taste. After all, no amount of flavoring can cover up rancid or spoiled fish oil.

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