Fish Oil Supplements – Do They Make a Difference?
The Washington Post ran an article recently with the headline: “Fish oil pills: A $1.2 billion industry built, so far, on empty promises”
The reality is that there are definitely well controlled studies which show the benefit of high quality standardized Omega-3 fish oil. There are studies that show no benefit.
Some of the studies that show no benefit to the use of Omega-3 fish oil are called meta-analysis studies. The problem arises when you do what is called a meta-analysis. The theory behind a meta-analysis is that by combining a variety of studies, theoretically, you get strength in numbers.
However, the multitude of studies which are grouped and analyzed together are designed differently and use all different omega preparations in a variety of doses and quality. Some of the studies include fish consumption as the primary source of omega studied.
The truth is these studies all have different designs and are set up to look at different endpoints. According to the Washington Post Article: “The AHA continues to endorse the use of fish oil, suggesting that people with heart disease, particularly those who don’t eat much fish, “may want to talk to their doctor about supplements.”
The following are some of the facts on Omega-3:
- Omega-3’s are considered ‘essential’ fatty acids meaning without them the human body would not function normally.
- Omega-3’s must be obtained through diet since the body does not manufacture them.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be critical for normal immune and neurologic health, reducing inflammation and maintaining optimal physiology i.e. how the body works.
- Omega-3 fish oil has been definitively proven to lower triglycerides, which are bad fats, that have been associated with cardiovascular disease and can cause pancreatitis when they are extremely high.
- There are a host of excellent secondary cardio-protective studies that show cardiac benefit in cardiac patients. In many areas of Europe, once you have heart disease it is considered the standard of care to place heart attack patients on Omega-3 supplements.
- A typical American/ Western diet is rich in processed foods that contain a high amount of Omega 6 oils, which are cheap and are regarded as predominantly pro-inflammatory (safflower oil, soybean, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, peanuts, nuts, etc.). Omega-3’s on the other hand are anti-inflammatory and thought to reduce systemic inflammation.
- Our distant ancestors are believed to have developed and thrived on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of 1-to-1; a typical American/ Western diet has ratios of omega−6 to omega−3 in excess of 10 to 1, some as high as 30 to 1. It is believed that the optimal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3’s is 4 to 1 or lower.
- Many of our patients report an improvement in their joint pain on our pharmaceutical grade Omega-3 fish oil.
- There is some data supporting the effectiveness of Omega-3 fish oil helping some patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
- Although Omega-3’s fish oil have been shown to reduce triglycerides (undesirable transport fats) and are thought to be of benefit in cardiac patients, some Omega-3 preparations will actually raise bad cholesterol (LDL). It is very important to match the Omega-3 fish oil with an individual’s needs. If someone has high LDL, I will generally recommend an Omega-3 fish oil preparation which is high in EPA with reduced DHA or totally devoid of DHA, which is the component that tends to increase LDL (bad cholesterol).
- When selecting an Omega-3 fish oil, it is critical to choose a pharmaceutical grade preparation that is adequately purified either by molecular distillation or via CO-2 extraction and that the end product is tested for purity and safety. Selecting an Omega-3 fish oil that is derived from small fish that tend not to concentrate impurities such as heavy metals, pesticides and PCB’s is desirable.
- There are three primary omega-3 fatty acids. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) & DHA* (docosahexaenoic acid) are found predominantly in seafood, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines crabs, mussels, oysters etc. ALA (alpha linoleic acid) is found predominantly in vegetable oils such as flaxseed, canola & soybean in Western diets. Flaxseed contains much higher concentrations of ALA but typically only a small amount of ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA. Thus, the primary sources of EPA and DHA are from seafood.
Obviously, additional research is needed to clarify the existing body of evidence. However, without further studies it is clear that a typical Western Diet is rich in pro-inflammatory Omega-6 oils derived from soybean and corn, and this is a relatively recent phenomenon (less than 100 years.) Our ancestors consumed diets much richer in Omega-3 fish oils that are anti-inflammatory and much lower in Omega-6 oils. To me, the test of time is the most conclusive evidence that supports eating a diet rich in Omega-3’s and dramatically reduced in Omega-6’s. I hope this helps clarify the conflicting reports on the subject.
It is important to pick the right supplements during your weight loss and wellness journey. Ask us which Omega-3 preparation is best for you.
*Oil obtained from algae is also a plant source of DHA.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You should always consult your healthcare provider when making decisions about supplements, nutrition and managing and evaluating your health.
2- Simopoulos, A.P (2002). “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids”. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy 56 (8): 365–79. doi:10.1016/S0753-3322(02)00253-6. PMID 12442909.
3- Daley, C. A.; Abbott, A.; Doyle, P.; Nader, G.; and Larson, S. (2004). “A literature review of the value-added nutrients found in grass-fed beef products”. California State University, Chico (College of Agriculture). Retrieved2008-03-23.