They’re Fooling You with Omega-3!

They’re Fooling You with Omega-3!

Omega-3 is one of those supplements that are always involved in controversy.

Its use is widespread throughout the Western population, from young athletes to inactive elderly people, due to its functional versatility. This makes it useful for many purposes and, therefore, there is a great investment of resources for research regarding the quality and development of these products.

At HSN, we carry out our own research on the products we sell to offer you the highest quality on the market, and we’re sure that today we’ll be revealing a secret the industry doesn’t want you to know:

Are you sure about the purity of the omega-3s you use as supplements? Keep reading and don’t miss out!

What is Omega-3?

We have a full article dedicated to this topic, so to keep it quick:

Omega-3 is a group of polyunsaturated and nutritionally essential fatty acids, including ALA, EPA and DHA, the latter two being the functionally useful omega-3s, the conversion products of ALA as a precursor of these fatty acids.

Omega-3s have been linked to:

  • Normal neurological and vision development in infants,
  • Maintaining normal heart function,
  • Maintaining normal triglyceride levels in the blood,
  • Maintaining normal blood pressure,
  • And even the reduction of stiffness after training.

This makes it a dietary supplement that can be seen both in the diet of a 25-year-old high-performance athlete and in the diet of an 85-year-old with doing cardiovascular work with a doctor.

Omega-3 has been embroiled in endless controversy:

From the ranking of fatty acids in pharmaceutical presentations of this product, to the dissolution of polystyrene expanded by the supposed presence of acetone in the softgels of these products.

Oil Fish Graph

TotOX (Total Oxidation) percentage value of 36 fish oil products on the market. The dashed line indicates the tolerable limit of TotOX.

However, among all the fake news and imprecisions that we can find in social networks, many truths are hidden by companies that have no interest in showing them.

At HSN, we have always been and always will be transparent, and all the information we have, and are learning from experience and research, is shared with our customers.

Do you know the real purity of your Omega-3 supplement?

The numbers you’ll see in your omega-3…

Let’s start by saying that Omega-3 isn’t the best name for the products we’re talking about, as these are animal or vegetable oils, with standardised content in these fatty acids.

An Omega-3 supplement is normally a product in softgels based on fish oil, with a certain content of:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

However, this isn’t a problem as long as the labelling is correct.

That is, HSN’s omega-3 1000mg indicates on its own label that the 1000mg refers to the fish oil contained in each softgels, an amount of which there is a variable % of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 Fish Oil Label

Supplement product information for Omega-3 Fish Oil 1000mg by EssentialSeries.

This percentage of fatty acids is what we’ve come to talk about… Do you know what it means?

Percentages of Omega-3

Typically, the standardisation percentage of a product, for example, a herbal extract, determines the mass amount of a particular compound that is present in an extract.

For example: an extract of Ashwagandha 1200mg standardised to 8.5% of Withanolids contains 102mg of these compounds (1200*0.085=102mg).

Etiqueta Ashwagandha Extract

Supplement product information for Ashwagandha extract (10:1) 400mg by EssentialSeries.

But with omega-3s… Surprise! It’s not like that…

There are 2 fundamental types of percentages of omega-3 standardisation for fish oils, the most common source of these fatty acids:

  • 18/12
  • 35/25

Nowadays, some companies, including ourselves, have opted for innovation in dietary supplements based on fish oil with a high omega-3 content of up to 50/35%.

In such cases, when we purchase an Omega-3 1000mg 18/12 product (for example), what do we expect to find?

The most common answer will be:

1000mg of fish oil, of which:

  • 180mg will be EPA.
  • 120mg will be DHA.

However, what is found in these products, and what even many well-known distributors in Spain and other European countries do not know (receiving their products badly labelled), is:

1000mg of fish oil, of which:

  • 160mg will be EPA.
  • 110mg will be DHA.
The same principle applies to any other % of Omega-3 described above. So, what’s going on with this?

Why not yo buy an Omega-3 without indicated mgs?

The measurement of Omega-3 fatty acids, in Europe, America, and other continents is carried out following an authorised method based on the guidelines of the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), with a detailed process set out in its official Ce 1i-07 method.

We find these bases for the determination of Omega-3 fatty acids in marine oils in the most important pharmacopoeias, such as the European or American USP, and manufacturers across the world use this measurement method due to its validity and reliability.

The problem is that the measurement method, although very reliable, is not expressed correctly for the consumer, as it conceives the measurement capability in the peak area of chromatographic response.

Here’s what this means…

This measurement uses an HPLC (an instrument known to have a high sensitivity and to measure the compounds you want to know about in a mixture such as fish oil extremely well). The HPLC generates a chromatogram, based on the measurements of the presence of fatty acids in the tested fish oil solution:


Chromatogram of a fish oil product. 11: ALA / 16: EPA / 18:DHA (Sigma Aldrich, n.d.).

What they get is basically this, a drawing that technicians can convert into operational values so that consumers can find out how much EPA and DHA (or other fatty acids) are being consumed.

With these peaks, two types of measurement can be used:

  • In area.
  • In mass.

Generally, all manufacturers base their values on area, why? Because the number comes out higher and the measurement is simpler.

The area measurement is based on the determination of the percentage of fatty acids based on the area of the response peak obtained in the chromatogram.

Formula for measuring the percentage of fatty acids in the area

Formula for measuring the percentage of fatty acids in the area (USP, 2016).

But this is not the actual percentage of fatty acids found in the oil that contains them, as to determine the actual amount of fatty acids you need to prepare a reference solution previously measured and validated as a comparison, perform more complex calculations, and apply response correction methods.

Formula for measuring the percentage of fatty acids by mass

Formula for measuring the percentage of fatty acids by mass (USP, 2016).

To make it simpler and more visual:

A fish oil 1000mg with a reference of 18% of EPA, does not have 180mg of EPA, but 160mg.

This is because 18% of the determination of the EPA area, once the calculations are applied using the reference solution, and applying the conversion factor to free fatty acids, decreases around 11% of its relative amount.

This way, products that market omega-3 based on percentages contain in theoretical equivalence:

PRODUCT 1EPA18180mg160mg
PRODUCT 2EPA35350mg311mg

Reflecting the content as a percentage of the area is, in our view, a non-transparent form of labelling, as it misleads the consumer, who believes they’re taking more product than it actually contains.

At HSN, we market fish oil products, and from other sources (such as algae), with quantities based on mass measurement methods, not area percentage.

As such, our products are:

  • Omega-3 Fish Oil 1000mg 180mg EPA / 120mg DHA
  • Ultra Omega-3 TG (IFOS) 1000mg 350mg EPA / 250mg DHA

With transparency as the standard for everything we do in the company.

Both EPA and DHA are expressed as free fatty acids, so that the amount reflected is 100% pure, and not in esterified form as other brands do, which also leads to falsely increasing the amount by not removing glycerol, ethanol, methanol or any other alkyl group from the esterified form of the ester form.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) ethyl ester

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) ethyl ester. In red is the ethanol that esterifies the fatty acid.

This is the same logic that governs the elemental amount of a mineral salt, which is why, for example, although magnesium bisglycinate is highly prized for its bioavailability, we still need to know the amount of elemental magnesium, because glycine is heavy and is not the magnesium ion that we are nutritionally interested in:

Magnesium bisglycinate representation

Magnesium bisglycinate. In red is the glycine that’s part of the mineral salt.

In fatty acids, the same thing happens, the previously highlighted red group is not part of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), but it weighs inside the molecule, so it must be eliminated so that the result of the amount of fatty acids doesn’t come out above the real one.

We do this at HSN, but not all companies do. We constantly work to offer you the highest quality products on the market at the right price.

Bibliographic References

  1. Albert, B. B., Derraik, J. G., Cameron-Smith, D., Hofman, P. L., Tumanov, S., Villas-Boas, S. G., Garg, M. L., & Cutfield, W. S. (2015). Fish oil supplements in New Zealand are highly oxidised and do not meet label content of n-3 PUFA. Scientific reports, 5, 7928.
  2. American Oil Chemists’ Society & American Oil Chemists’ Society. (2017). AOCS Official Method Ce 1i-07. s.d., s.d.: AOCS.
  3. Council of Europe, European Pharmacopoeia Commission, & European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & Healthcare. (2016). European Pharmacopoeia. s.d., s.d.: Council Of Europe.
  4. Stenerson, K. K., Halpenny, M. R., Sidisky, L. M., & Buchanan, M. D. (s.f.). GC Analysis of Omega 3 Fatty Acids in Fish Oil Capsules and Farm Raised Salmon.
  5. United States Pharmacopeial Convention. (2016). The United States Pharmacopeia. s.d., s.d.: United States Pharmacopeial Convention.

Related Entries

  • Do you know the differences between Omega 3 fatty acids in the form of TG (natural triglycerides) VS EE (ethyl esters)? We tell you in this Post.
  • Is there Vegan Omega-3? Check it out here.
Review of Omega-3: The Whole Truth

Omega-3 controversy - 100%

EPA/DHA Percentage - 100%

Measurement method - 100%

Measurement method - 100%


HSN Evaluation: 5 /5
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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
He is a specialist in metabolic physiopathology training and in the biomolecular effects of food and physical exercise.
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