Save your money on omega-3 supplements
This isn’t a new topic for me; I’ve written twice about fish oil supplements and omega 3-enriched foods. In both posts, I presented evidence that the heart health benefits (little to none) aren’t worth the price.
A new review from Cochrane last week confirms this.
The researchers conclude:
The review provides good evidence that taking long-chain omega 3 (fish oil, EPA or DHA) supplements does not benefit heart health or reduce our risk of stroke or death from any cause. The most trustworthy studies consistently showed little or no effect of long-chain omega 3 fats on cardiovascular health.
In other words, save your money and don’t buy fish oil supplements.
It’s a billion-dollar market, however, so I’m sure there will be push back from the manufacturers about this new study.
Fish oil and omega-3
There are three forms of omega-3s: DHA, EPA and ALA. (I won’t bore you with the long chemical names.)
- DHA and EPA are found in certain fatty fish: mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, and trout. Fish oil supplements are made from these fish.
- DHA (but not EPA) can be found in algae. Algal-based DHA is used for vegan supplements and for many fortified foods because it does not have a fishy smell or aftertaste.
- ALA is the omega-3 found in many plants, especially flax seeds, chia seeds, soybeans, beans, canola oil and walnuts. But ALA needs to be converted into DHA and EPA, so plant sources of omega-3s are not as efficient as fish sources. You need to eat more.
The Cochrane review based its report on 79 trials. Most of them compared fish oil supplements to placebo, rather than a diet of fish.
It also reported a very small benefit to natural sources of ALA. How small?
One thousand people would need to increase their ALA intake to prevent one person dying of coronary heart disease or experiencing a cardiovascular event.
I’ll continue to have the occasional salmon dinner or a snack of sardines on toast because I think fish is part of a healthy, balanced diet even if it doesn’t directly and significantly help my cardiovascular system. Same for nuts, seeds and beans.
But I won’t waste money again on fish oil supplements.
Reliable health information
I’m always trying to find reliable and independent sources for my health information. Sources that aren’t biased and funded by Big Pharma or some other health marketer.
WebMD doesn’t make my list.
Cochrane Reviews, however, have been a trusted source of evidence-based health care for decades. Many published research studies are small or poorly designed. Cochrane Reviews evaluates these studies, and then combines the best of them to create a larger, more significant and useful report (a meta-analysis).
They publish their reports online in The Cochrane Library.
They’ve also recently started a more patient-friendly website called Evidently Cochrane.
If you use a lot of supplements or herbal remedies, you may want to consider a subscription (about $50/year) to ConsumerLab, an independent testing lab that not only provides a robust collection of research on almost every supplement you’ve ever heard of (and many I’ve never heard of), but also tests supplements for purity.
I’ve listed other websites I frequently use on my Resources page.