In 1971, a team of Danish researchers found that an Inuit population in Greenland had lower cholesterol levels and a lower incidence of heart disease than Danes and Inuit living in Denmark. A theory emerged: The high-fat diet of the indigenous people gave them heart protection.
Since then, fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids – the health-promoting starch component of fish oil – have been the subject of tens of thousands of publications examining their health benefits.
Today the “Eskimo theory” is largely discredited. “We really don’t know whether the Eskimos have heart disease or not,” said Malden C. Nesheim, a professor emeritus of nutrition at Cornell University who chaired a committee of the Institute of Medicine in the early 2000s that looked at the risks and seafood benefits, in a 2018 interview with the New York Times. “I’ve been an omega-3 skeptic since this study.”
What do fish oil advocates say for you?
Fish oil is said to: improve arthritis; Reduce ADHD; reduce the likelihood of heart attack and cancer; improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL, the so-called good) cholesterol.
Should I try fish oil supplements?
Fish oil supplements are unnecessary for healthy people. It is better to eat a few servings of fish a week instead.
The largest study – the Vital Study – conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a subsidiary of Harvard Medical School, has tracked more than 25,000 people since 2010 and focused on whether they were taking daily supplements containing vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids reduced the risk of cardiac events or cancer in otherwise healthy individuals.
It found that omega-3 supplements did not reduce the risk of major cardiac events in a population with normal risk, but reduced the risk by 19 percent in a subset of people with low fish consumption. The study is considered the medical gold standard.
African Americans benefited regardless of fish consumption and showed a 77 percent lower risk of heart attacks. “This could be a chance find,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, director of the study and director of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “We plan to follow up closely and try to replicate it in a separate effort because if this can be reproduced it would be a very dramatic benefit for African Americans.”
Because more research is needed, experts do not necessarily recommend that African Americans take omega-3s.
If you have a history of heart disease or high triglycerides (an estimated 25 percent of adults in the United States have this, according to data from the 2015 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), taking omega-3s may be a good idea.
The potential downside to having supplements unregulated is that their production is not standardized so we don’t know what they contain, according to Dr. Pieter Cohen of the Cambridge Health Alliance who is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
He said that dietary supplements are expensive and that money could alternatively be spent on healthier diets. As an internist, Dr. Cohen found negative behavioral effects in some of his patients taking supplements.
“I have a lot of patients who say, ‘I’ll take my supplement and then I won’t worry about eating healthy during the day,'” said Dr. Cohen. “This is really misguided. Because in this case we have absolutely no evidence that it is better to replace a healthy fish meal with an omega-3 supplement. “
Is More Omega 3 Healthier?
Not necessarily. The effects of omega-3s have been studied in relation to the nervous system and brain health, as well as conditions such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases.
So far, however, the results have not been clear and inconsistent. “We need large-scale studies with very rigorous endpoint assessment to understand the effects,” said Dr. Manson. Over the next few months, she and her team who worked on the Vital Study will publish the results of several complementary studies on omega-3s in areas such as cognition, depression, autoimmune diseases, kidney function and respiratory health.
How Do I Take More Omega 3s Without Pills?
Eating oily fish lowers LDL and triglycerides.
Red sockeye salmon is typically low in pollutants and high in omega-3 fatty acids, said Paul Greenberg, author of The Omega Principle, which studies the health effects of omega-3s and the environmental impact of its production.
As an alternative, you can eat small fish like sardines, anchovies, and herring.
Flaxseed oil is a plant-based source of omega-3s, said Dr. Manson.
If you want a tablet supplement, look for a label from the United States Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit that sets standards for drugs and nutritional supplements. “When a product bears the USP label, it means that it meets USP standards and can legally be complied with,” said Craig Hopp of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
If I still want to take omega-3 supplements, will they harm me?
No, but if you take excessive amounts in the form of supplements you can get stomach upset. There is also some evidence that certain omega-3 fatty acids contribute to prostate cancer, although the results are still converging.
“The caution with dietary supplements is always that there are unfortunately many examples of what is on the label and not what is in the pill,” said Dr. Hops “Things can be missing. Not the stated amount of EPA and DHA. Or things can be added. ”
Where does fish oil come from?
It is obtained from cold water fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. “The interest in them is that they contain certain fatty acids,” said Dr. Hops Side note: the fish do not produce omega-3 fatty acids internally; they get it from the tiny plants, plankton (and other things) that they eat.
Am I destroying the environment by taking fish oil supplements?
May be? The way the pills are made is contributing to the destruction of the balance of marine life, according to Greenberg, who examined this in his book. He explains that the reduction industry, which produces nutritional supplements and also feeds for animals, including farmed fish, devours 25 million tons of small fish annually to “cook them into oil and flour”.
This leaves a void in the food chain where larger fish, marine mammals, and seabirds lack small fish like the Peruvian anchovy (one of the most widely fished fish in the world, most of which goes to the reducing industry) for food.
“Unless you have these little fish between the planktonic level of life and the higher planktonic levels, there is no way that solar energy hitting the ocean can be transferred from the planktonic level to higher life forms,” Greenberg said. “The argument is that if you left more of this little fish in the water, there would be a lot more big fish to eat, populate the ocean, and make it a more plentiful place.”
To prevent this cycle, he suggests taking a dietary supplement like a vegan, algae-based omega-3 that is sustainably sourced and does not include the reduction industry.