Health experts often say that taking fish oil supplements is a simple way to improve one's heart health. A new study says, however, that the evidence supporting such a claim is shaky at best.
Researchers from Cochrane, a nonprofit organization that fact-checks medical research findings, looked at 79 randomized trials involving over 100,000 people and found little proof that fish oils are beneficial to heart health.
That being said, eating oily fish can still be considered as part of a healthy diet.
What Is Omega 3?
Omega 3 is a type of fat found in the food we eat, small amounts of which could be essential for good health. There are three kinds: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The latter two are naturally found in fatty fish such as salmon, and fish oils including cod liver oil.
Health experts around the world promote consumption of omega 3 out of a common belief that they will protect against heart disease. Some food manufacturers even label their products as rich in omega 3. It is believed that it can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. There are also omega 3 supplements, often in tablet form, that can be bought over the counter, and they are widely bought and used, as Science Daily notes.
Are Fish Oil Supplements Useless?
The Cochrane researchers tried to challenge this common belief, and their review shows that increasing omega 3 consumption provides very little, if any, benefit on most of the outcomes that they looked at. Bear in mind that most of the studies they examined were deemed as highly trustworthy because they were well-designed and conducted.
The researchers also found that taking more omega 3 via supplements does very little impact on heart health, barely making a difference to risk of cardiovascular events, coronary heart deaths, stroke, or heart irregularities. Overall, reductions in cardiovascular events were so small that the chances of getting any significant impact from taking omega-3 is one in 1,000.
"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," said lead author Lee Hooper. When it comes to ALA, meanwhile, she noted that it "may be slightly protective of some diseases of the heart and circulation," but that the effect is very small: "143 people would need to increase their ALA intake to prevent one person developing arrhythmia."
Until a new study comes out that rebuts this review, it's probably best to stop consuming fish oil supplements for now, especially those who think it will have any meaningful benefit on heart health.