Pharmaceutical Grade Pills in the Supplement Aisle?

Grade Pills

Consider Lovaza, a brand-name prescription drug used for hypertriglyceridemia (high triglycerides). Lovaza is the only FDA-approved Omega-3 prescription drug. Developed by Reliant Pharmaceuticals and sold by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Lovaza is essentially a fish oil supplement held up to FDA quality standards.

The recommended daily dose of Lovaza is 4 grams per day (4 capsules). As described in its official Prescribing Information document, each 1000mg capsule is required to contain over 900mg of total Omega 3 fatty acids, including 465 mg of EPA and 375 mg of DHA. Lovaza is also subjected to regular quality control assays to ensure consistent purity and freshness.

What does this verified quality cost? $259/month for 120 capsules at CVS and Walgreens. Even with easily-obtained manufacturer coupon, consumers are still paying $7.97 for a daily supply, or $1.99 per capsule.

Compare these values to the results of LabDoor’s analytical chemistry assays on 30 best-selling fish oil supplements. LabDoor analyzed the total Omega-3, EPA, DHA, and Vitamin D content in each sample. Its scientists also measured the Peroxide and p-Anisidine values for each product, which combine to indicate its total oxidation value (TOTOX), a standard measure of oil freshness. Finally, each product was subjected to a heavy metals screen to identify potential contaminants.

Surprisingly, a number of fish oil supplements compared very favorably to Lovaza. For example, an Omega-3 supplement marketed under the brand “NutriGold” contained 1170mg of total Omega-3 fatty acids, including 900mg of EPA and 240mg of DHA, in an equivalent 1250mg capsule. This product also passed LabDoor’s freshness and purity assays. Similarly, Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega D3 passed all quality assays while providing 685mg of total Omega-3 fatty acids and a 100%+ daily value serving of Vitamin D.

While these supplement products provided similar quality metrics to Lovaza, their price was up to an order of magnitude less than the prescription Omega-3 product, at $0.19/capsule and $0.29/capsule respectively.

This study sheds a positive light on the supplement industry; however, there is still a significant need for regular quality control by an independent, unbiased agency. According to LabDoor’s analysis, supplement-grade fish oil manufacturers missed their label claims by an average of 19.2%. This value is consistent with label variances in other supplement categories, such as energy drinks (15.3%) and vitamin D supplements (22.3%).

LabDoor will continue to provide independent, unbiased analyses of dietary supplements, and, similarly to their manufacturer counterparts, provides this product at a cost that is orders of magnitude cheaper than the FDA equivalent.

  • Header Image: Lyza (Flickr)
  • Co-author: Shoua Kue