Are Fish Oil Supplements
a waste of money?
What is fish oil exactly?
Fish oil is just what it sounds like: oil derived from processed fish, especially species like herring, mackerel, salmon, anchovies, and sardines.
These oils are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Although our bodies can turn
alpha-linoleic acid—another type of Omega-3 fatty acid found in things like canola oil, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts—into EPA and DHA, fish oil is one of
the most efficient sources of these two Omega-3s for us.
Omega-3 fatty acids “do a lot of things in our bodies,” explained Stephen Kopecky, a cardiologist at the U.S. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, "It's hard to summarize exactly what they do, as such, but it’s safe to say that maintaining a sufficient level of these acids is vital to our overall functioning".
Don’t take the bait.
For hundreds of years, people have used fish oils, orally or topically, to treat a wide array of ailments, from aches and pains to rickets and gout and
everything from skin conditions to memory loss to heart disease.
The popularity of this supplement has shifted over the years, as have its primary uses. But over the past couple of decades, the hype around fish oil has arguably reached an all-time high.
According to National Institutes of Health statistics, in 2012, at least 18.8 million Americans used about $1.3 billion dollars worth of fish oil, making it the third most widely used supplement in the U.S. (Sales reportedly leveled out at around that level around 2013.)
Fish oil is the most commonly taken natural supplement among both adults and children, with 18.8 million U.S. adults taking them regularly, a National Health Interview Survey found.
Today, many use it because they believe it will broadly help their heart health, but others maintain that fish oil can help with renal health, bone, and joint conditions, cognitive functions and mental wellness, and any number of other conditions.
But is fish oil really as good for you as millions of Americans and people around the world believe it is? Who should be taking it and when?
Two extensive studies are now casting doubt on the supplements’ benefits — suggesting that there is little evidence to substantiate the claims made for the benfits of fish oil supplements.
There are a few scattered research results suggesting that omega-3 (fatty acid), the healthy fat found in oily fish, can be beneficial — recently, prescription-strength supplements (not the over-the-counter available kind) were given the tacit approval for those with high triglyceride levels, according to a new American Heart Association science advisory.
But, over the years, “studies have become less and less consistent showing benefits for major conditions such as heart disease”, says
Malden Nesheim, Professor of Nutrition emeritus and Provost emeritus at Cornell
“People need to be a little skeptical,” he says, adding that he would not personally take a fish-oil supplement for any health reason.
Here’s a look at recent findings on omega-3.
An August review of studies of omega-3 and omega-6 supplements in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that the type of fat found in fish-oil pills had minimal impact on reducing a person’s chances of being diagnosed with diabetes, or on improving their overall blood-glucose levels. The long-term study looked at 83 trials comprised of more than 121,000 participants. Overall, the trials revealed that those supplements had little-to-no benefit to diabetes patients compared to a placebo.
Another large study looking at nearly 1 million participants in 277 different trials, and published in July’s edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, investigated several supplements targeted at heart health. It found that evidence for omega-3 supplements such as fish-oil supplement had a 'low level of certainty' when it came to avoiding myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January, tracking nearly 26,000 people over age 50, found that taking omega-3 had zero effect on mortality rates from invasive cancers including breast, prostate or colorectal cancer.
Some research has looked at the link between aggression in children and omega-3. A 2016 study of 290 kids with behavioral issues found that a combination of therapy and fish oil helped them in the short term, but by the end of study, the positive effects had faded. In the UK, officials once suggested school children should be dosed with fish-oil supplements to help them behave better. But those in the scientific community widely panned the idea, arguing that there wasn’t enough evidence to support it. “It’s better to get omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish, which carries all the vitamins and minerals needed to metabolize them.” Oxford University physiology Professor John Stein told The Guardian newspaper back in 2006.
"With dementia, people are willing to do or try anything. But the evidence is not very good, and most people agree there really isn’t much you can do to prevent [the disease].".Malden Nesheim, Professor of nutrition emeritus and provost emeritus at Cornell University
Although there have been some findings that eating fish regularly can help people think better, fish-oil supplements do very little to improve your thinking skills in the long run. In general, they are a big waste of money for anyone hoping to stave off dementia, a World Health Organization advisory announced this year. “With dementia, people are willing to do or try anything,” Nesheim says. “But the evidence is not very good, and most people agree there really isn’t much you can do to prevent [the disease].”
EduKational Restaurant has long campaigned against people taking supplements other than with the express recommendations and advice of their medical doctor or accredited clinician.
We urge all people to be skeptical about the, often dubious, claims for health benefits of any supplements from their manufacturers and false health gurus. Too often these claims have been found to be entirely false or, at best, misleading.
Additionally, we urge people to understand that supplements should never be taken as a substitute for a proper balanced diet.