Are you one of the 10 percent of Americans that take fish oil regularly? Maybe you diagnosed yourself and decided that you needed more fatty acids, a.k.a. omega-3s, in your life. Well, if new research is to be believed, taking fish oil may or may not be useless.
Americans spend more than $1.2 billion on fish oil pills and associated products, making it the third most widely used supplement behind vitamins and minerals. So where is the disagreement on how effective fish oil products are?
According to an analysis of 24 studies based on randomized trials that was published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014, there is an “accrual of high-level evidence that the supplements lack efficacy across a range of health outcomes for which their use is advocated.“ Basically, that means there is a lot of evidence indicating that fish oil products aren’t as effective as you think.
As The Washington Post reported, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a little wishy-washy on whether or not they are for or against the use of fish oils. On one page of their website, they advocate for fish oils, stating that they could be beneficial to heart health because of the omega-3 fatty acids contained within.
However, on a separate page on their site, it is suggested that fish oil pills are useless, stating, “Omega-3s in supplement form have not been shown to protect against heart disease.” So which one is it, NIH? Well, The Washington Post asked and this is what Paul R. Thomas, a scientific consultant in NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements wrote: “I can see how you might think there is some inconsistency.” That’s it.
Though the idea of fish oil being beneficial to your health has been around since the 1970s, there hasn’t been any concrete evidence supporting its actual benefits. The New York Times reported that, from 2005 to 2012, there were at least two dozen studies done on fish oil that saw publication in major medical journals. All but two of those studies determined that fish oils had the same effect as a placebo.
“I think that the era of fish oil as medication could be considered over now,” said Dr. Gianni Tognoni of the Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan.
It’ll be interesting to see how much these kinds of studies affect the way that people take supplements. If it’s any indication, however, people will believe what they want to believe. That means they’ll continue to take fish oils, even if not everyone is sold on the benefits.