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Something’s Fishy With Fish Oil

Recent trials cast doubt on the efficacy of omega-3 supplements.

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Don’t like fish? Well, you might not be able to turn to the supplement aisle to get the same benefits for your heart. A Cochrane report exploring 79 randomized trials of more than 112,000 adults (both with and without heart disease) showed that increasing omega-3 intake, mainly from fish oil pills taken for at least 1 year, did not significantly prevent heart attacks, strokes or deaths in general.

These findings jibe with those of a meta-analysis study from the University of Oxford, published in JAMA Cardiology, that reviewed 10 fish oil trials involving 77,917 older adults at risk for heart disease. The researchers found that omega-3 supplementation, ranging from 226 to 1,800 milligrams per day for a mean of 4.4 years, had little impact on reducing the rate of coronary heart disease events such as heart attacks. Additionally, according to research in the Journal of Nutrition Science and the Cardiovascular Journal of Africa, capsules of omega-3 fatty acids can be exposed to air and become oxidized (essentially rancid) during fish oil processing. That could be why popping fish oil pills might not benefit heart health as much as getting your omega-3s straight from the source—namely, fatty fish like salmon and sardines. Also, some people may pop a pill believing it can undo poor dietary habits, such as eating a lot of fried foods.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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