People may be spending too much for nothing.

Every year, the United States spends around $1.2 billion on fish oil pills and other related supplements. There has been no hard evidence of any health benefit of fish oil.

Researchers published a paper in JAMA Internal Medicine last year regarding the evidence in clinical trials and use of fish oil as supplement. The study accrued high-level evidence and found that fish oil lacks efficacy across a range of health outcomes.

"What we have found is that the original papers continue to be cited well after they have been refuted. These claims do not easily die away," said John PA Ioannidis, a Stanford University professor known to have critiqued methods in nutritional research.

Fish oil supplements are advertised as being effective for heart diseases because they contain omega-3, which is a beneficial fatty acid.

This remains a confusing topic of debate over the role of omega-3 in the American diet. For almost half a century now, the U.S. Dietary Goals has been constantly reminding Americans to eat less fat and more carbohydrates. The U.S. Dietary Goals has had great influence on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Experts stress that fish oil was recommended despite unclear and mixed evidence, and despite disputes and suggestions that the supplement is worthless. This further causes confusion among American consumers.

For one, the American Health Association (AHA) advises heart disease patients to consult their doctors about omega-3 supplements. On the contrary, former AHA president Robert Eckel said that the recommendations need revision, and that it would be the right time to update the recommendations. He pointed out that nearly all studies regarding fish oil supplements show no benefit at all. He feels that the claims remain unproven.

Ioannidis also adds that it is a common situation that most Americans are attracted to fish oil as it is seen as a "life-extending elixir." He notes that diet notions persist, even when evidence is brought about to refute current claims.

So far, no studies have discovered any negative effects fish oil supplements might have on consumers. However, neither have studies shown hard evidence of positive effects on heart disease patients. On a supplement whose health benefits consumers really are not sure about, an annual $1.2 billion just might be too much.

Photo: Mat Hampson | Flickr

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