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Comparative analysis of EPA and DHA in fish oil nutritional capsules by GC-MS

Background: Fish oil is a popular nutritional product consumed in Hong Kong. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the two main bioactive components responsible for the health benefits of fish oil. Market survey in Hong Kong demonstrated that various fish oil capsules with different origins and prices are sold simultaneously. However, these capsules are labelled with same ingredient levels, namely EPA 180mg/g and DHA 120mg/g. This situation makes the consumers very confused. To evaluate the quality of various fish oil capsules, a comparative analysis of the contents of EPA and DHA in fish oil is crucial.

Methods: A gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) method was developed for identification and determination of EPA and DHA in fish oil capsules. A comprehensive validation of the developed method was conducted. Ten batches of fish oil capsules samples purchased from drugstores of Hong Kong were analyzed by using the developed method.

Results: The present method presented good sensitivity, precision and accuracy. The limits of detection (LOD) for EPA and DHA were 0.08ng and 0.21ng, respectively. The relative standard deviation (RSD) values of EPA and DHA for repeatability tests were both less than 1.05%; and the recovery for accuracy test of EPA and DHA were 100.50% and 103.83%, respectively. In ten fish oil samples, the contents of EPA ranged from 39.52mg/g to 509.16mg/g, and the contents of DHA ranged from 35.14mg/g to 645.70mg/g.

Conclusion: The present method is suitable for the quantitative analysis of EPA and DHA in fish oil capsules. There is a significant variation in the contents of the quantified components in fish oil samples, and there is not a linear relationship between price and contents of EPA and DHA. Strict supervision of the labelling of the fish oil capsules is urgently needed.

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Alex’s Notes: Half of this study is dedicated to discussing a new method for determination of EPA and DHA, which turns out to be cheaper and more reliable than current methods, but I’m not going to focus on that. Instead, I want to focus on the questions that the researcher’s propose are common among persons supplementing with fish oil.

  1. Do various fish oils contain the same amount of EPA and DHA?
  2. Is there a relationship between the EPA/DHA contents and the price?
  3. Are more expensive fish oils truly of better quality?

Unfortunately, the third question is not answered in the current text, and we know that quality extends beyond the amount of product within the capsules to factors such as oxidation and contamination. So ignoring that one, the researchers did answer the first two questions through analysis of the EPA/DHA content of ten different fish oil brands that all stated to contain 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA.

What they found was that there was no relationship between price and quality. As we can see in the table below, products 3, 4, & 6 contained more EPA/DHA than products 1, 2, & 5 despite costing far less. Note that all the samples were listed to contain 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA.

Sample

Price ($/g)

Actual EPA (mg)

Actual DHA (mg)

Total EPA/DHA

1

1.98

200

200

400

2

1.68

150

135

285

3

1.53

510

500

1010

4

1.49

420

645

1065

5

1.02

130

125

255

6

0.98

360

120

480

7

0.65

210

205

415

8

0.64

165

125

290

9

0.34

40

35

75

10

0.23

110

155

265

Bottom line

Be aware of your supplements, and do some research on Consumerlabs before choosing a brand. I can tell you that their analysis of the cadmium content of popular chocolates and cocoa powders led me to change brands. But also be aware that quality extends beyond satisfying label claims, and ensuring proper storage and preparation of fish oil supplements is very important so as to minimize their oxidation, rancidity, and contamination.

 
 

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