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21.02.2011


Study: ethyl ester omega-3 works less well than cheap fish oil

The expensive supplements containing 'pharmacological' ethyl esters of fish oil fatty acids work almost as well as the cheaper 'ordinary' fish oil supplements. Researchers at the Leibniz Universitaet Hannover discovered this when they did an experiment with 150 test subjects.

Fish and ordinary fish oil supplements contain fatty acids like DHA and EPA attached to a glycerol molecule. Three fatty acids are attached to glycerol, and the resulting complex is called a triglyceride. The fat in our food and in our fat reserves consists of triglycerides.

When supplements companies started selling fish oil capsules, pharmaceuticals companies thought: 'we can do that too, but better'. So they concocted supplements with fish oil fatty acids attached not to a glycerol molecule but to an ethyl group.

The figure below shows the chemical structure of ethyl analogue of the fish oil fatty acid EPA. According to the pharmaceutical companies, the human body absorbs the ethyl fish oil fatty acids better. And now supplements companies are following suit they've also started to sell ethyl analogues of fish oil fatty acids.


Study: ethyl ester omega-3 works less well than cheap fish oil


The Germans wanted to know whether the ethyl fish oil fatty acids actually work. So they gave 150 test subjects 4 capsules a day for six months. One group were given capsules containing no active ingredients, a second group were given capsules containing ethyl fish oil fatty acids [EE], and a third group were given capsules containing ordinary fish oil [rTAG]. The DHA and EPA intake was the same in the EE and the rTAG groups.

The researchers looked at the red blood cells of the subjects to determine the effectiveness of the different supplements. They measured the amount of fish oil fatty acids the membranes contained.


Study: ethyl ester omega-3 works less well than cheap fish oil


Study: ethyl ester omega-3 works less well than cheap fish oil


The figure above shows the omega-3 index. The higher the index, the more omega3-fatty acids the blood cells have absorbed. The solid line represents the placebo group, the dotted line the EE group and the dashed line the rTAG group. The supplements containing ordinary fish oil work slightly better than those containing ethyl fish oil fatty acids.

"The results indicate that n-3 FA-rTAG is superior to n-3 FA-EE in view of the EPA/DHA tissues incorporation following a long-term administration", the researchers conclude.

Source:
Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;65(2):247-54.

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