Television, radio, and print advertisements are saturated with compelling free ads for fish oil supplements, but scientific studies either show no positive effects or show a downside.
Advertisers have claimed for years that fish oil (omega-3) improves heart health because it supposedly increases “good” HDL cholesterol. When scientifically tested, fish oil supplements (omega-3, PUFA) do not meet the high demands of advertisers.
Currently, fish oil supplements are indicated for patients with elevated plasma triglycerides to reduce cardiovascular risk. According to a new study, omega-3 supplements are linked to an increased chance of developing atrial fibrillation in people with high blood fat levels.
Some clinical studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may be linked to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disorder.
People with this disorder are five times more likely to have a stroke. The American Heart Association has recommended its use as “reasonable” for secondary prevention of coronary artery disease in patients with recent events and “might also be considered” in people with heart failure and reduced ejection fraction.
On the contrary, the European Society of Cardiology has described a protective effect of omega-3 fatty acids as “at best questionable”. There is a consensus that people should get their omega-3s and fish oil from food, not supplements. Low-dose omega-3 fatty acids are available without a prescription and without a prescription.
They are also often prescribed due to the high prevalence of elevated triglycerides in the population. Consumers should keep in mind that consuming fish oils, fish liver oils, and omega-3 supplements can pose a risk to some people. Omega-3 supplements can affect blood clotting and cause gastrointestinal problems.
In addition, consuming high amounts of oily fish increases the intake of high amounts of toxic mercury. The AHA recommends shrimp, light canned tuna, salmon, saithe and catfish as low in mercury. They advise avoiding sharks, swordfish, king mackerel and tile fish, as these can be high in mercury.
New research shows that men with high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids are at a much higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
An extensive analysis of 10 large, randomized trials from 2018 found that taking omega-3 fish oil supplements did not result in a significantly reduced risk of 1) death from coronary artery disease, 2) non-fatal myocardial infarction (heart attack), 3) related events of coronary artery disease and 4) major vascular events.
Somehow, omega-3s have gained a reputation for heart health with no good evidence that they actually prevent serious cardiovascular disease.
In the America I love, always rely on the scientific facts. Please read my book “Fish Oils (Omega-3 Fatty Acids): Facts, Fantasies, and Mistakes” on amazon.com.
Professor Randolph M. Howes, MD PhD, is a surgeon, scientist, and patient advocate who lives in the Kentwood area.