Is it just snake oil? Study casts doubt on fish oil claims


For several years the use of fish oil has been proposed to help prevent further heart problems in people who with heart disease.

Before going any further it needs to be made plain that fish oil is the main source of the omega-3 fats that many people take.

Actually, fish do not make these oils. They get them from microalgae in the ocean . Some companies produce vegetarian omega-3 from the microalgae and sell it as a supplement.

An important recent study in the April 2012 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine shows the use of fish oil does not help for the purpose mentioned in the first paragraph of this column.

The authors found 1,007 articles dealing with the subject but only 14 met their criteria of properly performed double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. These 14 involved 20,485 patients with a history of cardiovascular disease.

Here is what they found: Supplementation with omega-3 oil did not reduce the risk of overall cardiovascular events, all cause mortality, sudden cardiac death, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, TIA-transient ischemic attack or stroke.

This study was done by scientists in South Korea and printed in a respectable peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

For the benefit of those readers who may not know what peer review is, it is a process journals use to try to ensure that the articles they publish represent the best scholarship available.

Publishers send the article to other scholars who are experts in the field in question to make sure the article is relevant and represents good scholarship.

If you were to check on the Internet for other purported uses for fish oil, you would find in both Wikepedia and Medline numerous supposed benefits. It is possible that studies like the one reported here might show that there is not good science to support all those benefits.

Now for a postscript in regard to my column in the Aug. 10 U-B regarding the value for longevity of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Since no mention was made whether whole grains and legumes would be of value, I contacted the lead author for that study asked about whole grains and legumes.

Here is her reply: “In response to your questions, we were unfortunately unable to consider the overall contribution of the diet provided by whole grains or legumes as a predictor for mortality. However, as you are most likely aware, certain legumes have carotenoids, such as lutein in chickpeas. Whole grains also contain carotenoids (depending on the composition of the foods), including beta carotene, therefore, this study provides support that legumes and whole grains would also be protective against mortality as well, although it is not tested directly.”

This being the case, does it appear the diet that would give the greatest chance of living longer would be one composed of food that had no mother?

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 21/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.


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