The Research Backing Up The Health Benefits Of Omega-3's Is Fishy

Fish Oil

Photo: Flickr/YIM Hafiz

Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is commonly thought to be important in a healthy diet and people often take it in pill form as a dietary supplement.Advocates for fish oil claim it can help heart disease, stroke, depression, osteoporosis, and much more. New research shows that these health claims may be exaggerated, and taking fish oil supplements may be unnecessary.

The list of health benefits attributed to fish oil is long. While some studies support these benefits, recent publications have debunked some claims. Some of these recent studies include:

  • A September 2012 review of 20 fish oil studies, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that taking fish oil supplements, or increasing fish in your diet, does not reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack, or death.
  • A June 2012 review by The Cochrane Collaboration concluding that fish oil supplements fail to prevent, or treat cognitive decline.
  • A 2011 review by Yale University found that omega-3’s don’t significantly alleviate depression.

There may be a number of reasons for these recent negative findings.

  • Most studies that found benefits of fish oil were done on people with heart disease, or heart disease risk factors, not healthy people. 
  • A preliminary study by the University of Birmingham suggests certain ethnic groups may absorb fat more effectively and may therefore benefit more from omega-3 supplements.
  • Research has also not taken the effects of other medication into consideration. Although this needs to be further investigated, research by Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that fish oil supplements have no effect on people already treating their conditions with medication, but did cut risk of a second heart attack by half when not taking any other medication.
  • Fish consumption has doubled since 1961. An increased fish diet allows people to get an optimal amount of omega-3s, so supplements may be unnecessary.

While some of the benefits of fish oil may be debunked, the World Health organisation recommends taking Omega-3s during pregnancy to boost fetal brain development, and research does suggest they could reduce blood pressure, inflammation, and increase blood flow in the brain.

Although there may be some benefits to the supplements for some people, the United Nations Food and Agriculture organisation has concluded that most people get enough of these good fats from their diet and that more consumption in the form of pills doesn’t add health benefits. So, if you are healthy, save some money on supplements and just make sure you have a healthy diet.

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