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In the Headlines: Fish Oil Benefits Not Supported

by Grace McCalmon

 The New York Times recently published an article with the headline “Fish Oil Claims Not Supported by Research”.  It definitely got our attention, but which claims are they talking about?  Does this apply to all fish oil claims for all people?  In the age of information overload, where everyone is vying for click-throughs, it’s important to read past the headlines, so we took a deeper look at this article to find out if we really should abandon our omega-3s.

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE WERE STUDIED?

The article states that from 2005 to 2012 at least two dozen studies of fish oil were published and all but two found fish oil showed no benefit preventing cardiovascular events in high-risk populations.  These “high-risk populations” were people who either already had heart disease or exhibited strong risk factors like high cholesterol, hypertension or Type 2 diabetes.  

The article went on to compare fish oil to intensive therapies like statin drugs, beta blockers and blood thinners, quoting Dr. Gianni Tognoni, who stated “I think that the era of fish oil as medication could be considered over now.”  But according to Dr. Jeffrey Dach, M.D., “The main reason to take fish oil is the benefit for cardiovascular disease prevention, not as a medication once one is already sick.”  

We couldn’t agree more.  It’s very difficult for a treatment – prescription or otherwise – to reverse a condition once it’s developed, but that doesn’t mean there’s no use in taking preventative measures.  To this point, the article states that new trials are being conducted to find out if fish oil has beneficial effects for people who don’t have strong risk factors.

WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER BENEFITS?

The author points out that the research only focused on heart disease and fish oil has been shown to be beneficial for other conditions including cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression.  We’d like to add to that list.  Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to relieve Dry Eye Syndrome and serve as an equally effective alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s), without the negative side effects.  And let’s not forget the DHA and EPA found in fish oil.  EPA is proven to be anti-inflammatory and has been shown to help regulate behavior and mood, with some research indicating that it may be helpful for people struggling with ADHD.  DHA composes about 15 percent to 20 percent of the brain’s cerebral cortex, as well as 30 percent to 60 percent the retina, and is a critical nutrient for brain function and eye health.  Both of these two nutrients have been found to be particularly important for pregnant mamas and the developing brains of children.

WHAT IF FISH IS NOT AN OPTION?

Dr. James Stein, a cardiologist quoted in the article, encourages his patients to avoid fish oil supplements and focus on eating fatty fish at least twice a week.  This sounds great, but show us an eight year old that downs sardines twice a week and we’ll give you a medal.  The truth is, many kids and adults don’t eat fish, and it’s not just the taste (or smell) that’s prohibitive – feeding a whole family fish twice a week can get pretty pricy.  

So for those who hate fish or can’t afford to eat seafood twice a week, they can supplement with fish oil.  This is exactly why we include it in our gummies – our goal is to put in the nutrients that people can easily miss in their diets, and omega-3s are definitely one of them.

A NOTE ON QUALITY

Lastly, we’re not sure what kind of fish oil was used in these clinical trials, but it’s worth mentioning that all fish oils are not created equal.  Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated, which means they’re very unstable.  If these fatty acids are exposed to heat during the manufacturing process they can become damaged.  These damaged, or oxidized oils are inflammatory.  If someone were to take low quality, oxidized fish oil, they could actually worsen the problems they’re trying to fix.  This is why our fish oil must pass over 200 quality checks to make sure it’s safe, pure and the highest possible quality.

THE FINAL VERDICT

In our opinion, supplements are meant to help maximize daily health and hopefully prevent the need for expensive drugs with powerful side effects – not take their place.  So although taking fish oil might not save you from a second heart attack, there’s no research that shows you won’t benefit from it in other ways.

DEMYSTIFYING THE MEDIA

Our goal is always transparency and simplicity.  We want to know what’s good for us and what’s not, and if that means publishing new research that says we’re wrong then so be it.  So stay tuned to our “In The Headlines” series, where we’ll stay updated together on the facts behind the latest health and wellness stories.


 

What’s your take on fish oil? Do you supplement with it or not? Any positive experiences? Negative? We’d love to hear in the comments!

Posted on April 7, 2015
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Grace McCalmon

Grace is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a graduate of Duke University. She received her nutrition certification from the Nutritional Therapy Association, and her training is based on the work of Dr. Weston A Price, as well as the latest peer-reviewed, scientific research.