A recent article in the New York Times stated Fish Oil Claims Not Supported by Research. I, like millions of people worldwide, take fish oil supplements daily, so I was intrigued concerning these new findings. The article primarily focused on the claims about fish oil’s ability to reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes. The article states that although earlier research showed potential, later research did not prove it to be beneficial for people that already had signs of atherosclerosis.
One of the people interviewed in the piece was Dr. James Stein, the director of preventive cardiology at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. He said the reason fish oil showed promise back then compared to now was because cardiovascular medicine has improved so greatly. “The standard of care is so good today that adding something as small as a fish oil capsule doesn’t move the needle of difference,” he said. “It’s hard to improve it with an intervention that’s not very strong.”
I think this is a reasonable (and proven) statement that fish oil will not treat someone with cardiovascular disease better than statins, beta blockers, and blood thinners, but it is still a beneficial supplement I recommend for most people. I don’t look at it as a magic pill to fix what’s broken, but as something you should take long before it’s too late to limit the chances something will break. Omega-3 fatty acids will benefit your health if you add them too your diet early enough. They have also been shown to benefit the brain and nervous system for both the young and old and reduce the symptoms of depression, ADHD, and can protect against Alzheimer's and dementia. Another expert within the same New York Times article, Dr. JoAnn Manson, mentioned that she does not rule out fish oil yet because, “the large clinical trials of fish oil focused only on people who already had heart disease or were at very high risk. Fish oil has also been promoted for the prevention of a variety of other conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression.”
What does Essential really mean?
In general the reason I recommend fish oil is because Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid. I’ve found many people have heard about essential fats or essential amino acids, but they don’t truly get what that means when it comes to our biology. They get the part where essential means important, but I think vital is a more apt description. Your body can take all manner of nutrients and chemically recombine them to make something else it needs at the time. For instance, your body can break protein down into sugar for fuel if needed, so sugar is important to function, but it’s not essential. An essential nutrient, however, cannot by manufactured by the body, it can only be consumed. This means that unless you’re getting enough Omega-3 sources in your diet from fatty fish, grass-fed beef, and eggs from flaxseed-fed chickens, you are not getting the correct nutrients you need to operate properly; you are nutrient deficient, which leads to problems. The article states another thing I agree with, it’s probably better to get your Omega-3 from whole foods rather than from supplements, but in general, I’ve found most people don’t.
It’s a cheap way to reinforce your body
I don’t agree with the article’s final conclusion that people might be wasting their money on unproven fish oil pills. Quite frankly I’ve found them to be incredibly cheap, especially when you spread that cost out over a 1-month or 2-month supply. It’s an easy way to provide essential nutrients that your body needs to function. Even with the real dangers of mercury contamination from eating too much fish, U.S. dietary guidelines still recommend at least 2 servings of fish a week. The benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids on the brain and nervous system actually outweigh the negative impacts that mercury has on those same organs. Fish oil pills are typically molecularly distilled to remove all mercury and give you a safe way to get the nutrients your body can’t make on it’s own.