The Truth About Fish Oil

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The Truth About Fish Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are essential nutrients shown to reduce inflammation,[1] support cardiovascular health,[2] promote brain function [3], and support foetal development during pregnancy.[4] Our bodies are unable to produce omega-3 fatty acids, so we must consume them in our diet or through supplementation. Unfortunately, 80% of adults do not meet the recommended daily intake (RDI) of omega-3 fatty acids,[5] but amongst people who do meet the RDI, 90% have been found to take a supplement.[6] Therefore, the easiest way to ensure you are getting enough omega-3 for your health needs is to take a fish oil supplement. That being said, recently, media reports have introduced confusion about the benefits of fish oil, with some claiming fish oil has no health benefits. So, what is the truth about fish oil?

“I Heard Fish Oil is Useless!”

With recent headlines, “Fish Oil Supplements for a Healthy Heart ‘Nonsense’” and “This Incredibly Popular Supplement is Pretty Much Useless”, it’s no wonder many people are questioning the effectiveness of fish oil. However, it is important to remember that the media loves a sensationalist headline, but more importantly, may not accurately reflect what the science says.

 

Fish Oil Tablet | HealthMasters

So, let us look at the research with a critical eye. The above headlines are based on a scientific review of 79 clinical trials[7] investigating whether fish oil is helpful for preventing heart disease, stroke and related deaths. In a review like this, researchers collate the results of relevant research and use them to conclude whether a drug, supplement or other intervention is effective. Unfortunately, any flaws in the individual studies included in the review can muddy its conclusion, which is what occurred in this case. 

Specifically, two major flaws make it difficult to draw any definite conclusions about the ‘real-life’ therapeutic value of fish oil supplements for cardiovascular health from this review: 

1. Dosage: Previous studies of fish oil have demonstrated that its benefits are dependent on taking an appropriate therapeutic dose (1000 mg/d of EPA and 500 mg/d DHA for cardiovascular health); however, both low and high doses of fish oil were included in this review. This means that some of the papers did not find a benefit for fish oil, not because fish oil is ineffective, but because a high enough dose to achieve a benefit was not used.

2. Quality: Fish oil that is oxidised (rancid) or contaminated with heavy metals or other toxicants will not have the same therapeutic effects as a pure, high-quality fish oil supplement. This means the poor quality fish oil used in some of the included studies also skewed the results of the review.

“But Aren’t Most Fish Oils Rancid?” 

A New Zealand study[8] made headlines in 2015 by indicating that many common fish oil brands contained alarming levels of oxidation. Again, it is important to look critically at the science for any flaws that might affect the study’s accuracy, which is exactly what the Global Organisation for EPA and DHA did. They found that the way the fish oil samples were handled in this study is what caused oxidation of the samples, giving false positive results. On re-testing using proper handling techniques, high levels of oxidation were not found in most of the samples.[9

 “Do Fishy Burps Mean My Fish Oil is Off?” 

Although some people believe you can assess the quality of a fish oil supplement based on whether it causes fishy-tasting burps, a ‘repeating’ fishy taste is unrelated to quality. Rather, it is caused by inadequate mixing of the fish oil in the stomach or issues with reflux or digestive health. If you struggle with fishy burps, look for an enteric-coated fish oil supplement, which does not break down in the stomach and therefore does not cause fishy burps.

Checking different types of fish oil | HealthMasters

The Right Fish Oil 

While inaccurate reporting and flawed science in the case of the two studies discussed above has created confusion about fish oil’s effectiveness, the truth about fish oil remains the same: To get the benefits of fish oil, you must choose a high potency (dose) fish oil supplement from a trusted brand that is committed to quality. 

To get the benefits of fish oil, you must choose a high potency (dose) fish oil supplement from a trusted brand that is committed to quality. 

There are two ways to do this. One option is to investigate brands yourself by reading their resource material or phoning them and asking what they do to ensure quality. The other, simpler option is to see a qualified natural healthcare Practitioner, who can prescribe a high quality, pure fish oil supplement at the appropriate dose for your needs. To access an effective fish oil supplement, contact Naturopath Kevin Tresize ND.

[1] Calder PC. Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes. Nutrients. 2010 Mar;2(3):355-74. doi: 10.3390/nu2030355.

[2] Erkkila AT, Matthan N, Herrington D, Lichtenstein AH. Higher plasma docosahexaenoic acid is associated with reduced progression of coronary atherosclerosis in women with CAD. J Lipid Res. 2006;47(12):2814-2819.

[3] Yurko-Mauro K, Alexander D, Van Elswyk M. Docosahexaenoic acid and adult memory: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2015;10(3):1-18. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120391.

[4] Kawakita E, Hashimoto M, Shido O. Docosahexaenoic acid promotes neurogenesis in vitro and in vivo. Neuroscience. 2006;139(3):991-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2006.01.021.

[5] Meyer B. Australians are not meeting the recommended intakes for omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: results of an analysis from the 2011–2012 national nutrition and physical activity survey. Nutrients. 2016 Mar;8(3):111. doi: 10.3390/nu8030111.

[6] Meyer B. Australians are not meeting the recommended intakes for omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: results of an analysis from the 2011–2012 national nutrition and physical activity survey. Nutrients. 2016 Mar;8(3):111. doi: 10.3390/nu8030111.

[7] Abdelhamid AS, Brown TJ, Brainard JS, Biswas P, Thorpe GC, Moore HJ, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2018(11). doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003177.pub3.

[8] Albert B, Derraik J, Smith D, et al. Fish oil supplements in New Zealand are highly oxidised and do not meet label content of n-3 PUFA. Sci Rep. 2015 Jan;5:7928. doi:10.1038/srep07928.

[9] Bannenberg G, Mallon C, Edwards H, et al. Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid content and oxidation state of fish oil supplements in New Zealand. 2017 May;7:1488. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-01470-4.

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