50% of South African omega-3 supplements have content issues: Study

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

50% of South African omega-3 supplements have content issues: Study

Related tags: Fish oil, Omega-3 fatty acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid

A survey of 46 omega-3 products on the South African market has found about half contain less than 89% of their claimed DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)-EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) levels and that there exists, “a wide variation in the quality of the marine oils present”.

The survey was published in the November-December 2011 edition of Cardiovascular Journal of Africa​, and put forward several possible reasons for a variance in on-market quality including:

  • Poor quality of imported fish oil
  • Seasonal differences in fish oil DHA-EPA concentration
  • Lack of ‘proper’ food supplement labeling laws
  • Inappropriate handling of fish oil at harvest
  • Improper storage of fish oil and supplements
  • Fatty acid oxidation
  • Ineffective quality assurance by supplement manufacturers
  • Poor batch control analysis

“If these issues are not addressed and legislation on food supplements is not enforced, South African consumers will have to deal with substandard dietary supplements,”​ wrote the researchers from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

The products in question, which have not been revealed by brand, were acquired two years ago and the researchers have vowed to take another sample this year.

All about GMPs

Responding, leading Cape Town-based supplements manufacturer, Vital Health Foods (VHF), emphasised the importance of good manufacturing practices (GMPs) – in its case to pharmaceutical levels with a range of products including omega-3 supplements.

“VHF has adopted the medicinal GMP standard for all its products. Every batch of every delivery of each raw material received is tested. For active ingredients (purity (assay) and identification) and for excipients (identification) testing,"​ said quality assurance manager, Debbie Flandrof.

"For all fish oils, we test EPA and DHA on receipt. Then, after the product is made it is tested again for EPA and DHA to ensure that label claim is met before it is released for sale.”

“Because these are natural products, we cannot always control the specification of the components in the raw material, therefore it is possible that the EPA and DHA values could fall outside of the upper limit of a conventional specification - plus/minus 10% of label claim.”

“For this reason, on our labels, we state a typical value for EPA/DHA and not an absolute value. We will always ensure that the product meets at least the typical value stated on the label.”

George Grieve, VHF managing director added: “We must, by law, test each and every batch of active raw material for ingredient purity and identification. We also test the finished product, to ensure quality and safety. Vital products are then accompanied by a GMP stamp, which guarantees the shelf-life of the product.”

Source: Cardiovascular Journal of Africa

Volume 22, No. 6, Nov-Dec 2011

‘Analysis of omega-3 fatty acid content of South African fish oil supplements’

Authors: M Opperman, DW Marais, AJ Spinnler Benade

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