A new Cochrane review has warned that omega-3 fish oil supplements may be completely ineffective in protecting against diseases.
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish have been historically among the most common method of intaking the essential fats. It has for many years been glorified as the key to good health and intelligence, thought to protect against heart disease, strengthen immunity, support healthy brain function, and promote healthy skin and hair.
However, the new review, led by the University of East Anglia (UEA), has concluded that while omega-3 fats like alphalinolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid are essential for health, fish oil supplements do little – if anything – to protect the heart.
The review studied over 112,000 randomly selected people and found that nine percent of the subjects who had not taken the supplement died. However, the percentage was very similar for those who were supplemented — 8.8 percent died. There was no difference in heart attack and stroke rates, the study also noted.
The leader of the study, Dr. Lee Hooper from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said in a statement: “The findings of this review go against the popular belief that long-chain omega 3 supplements, including fish oils, protect the heart. This large systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods. Despite all this information, we don’t see protective effects.”
The review provides “good evidence” that fish oil supplements have almost no effect on the risk of heart disease, stroke or, ultimately, death.
However, consuming plant-based oils may be a solution. Hooper added, “This systematic review did find moderate evidence that ALA, found in plant oils such as rapeseed or canola oil, and nuts, particularly walnuts, may be slightly protective of some diseases of the heart and circulation.” According to the National Academy of Medicine, ALA is the only essential omega-3 acid, and as well as nuts, it can be located in flax, chia, and hemp seeds.
Whilst omega-3 remains a staple for good health, it is now apparent that fish oil supplements are not a miracle cure for illness. It is possible, however, that in taking the fatty acid from natural, plant-based sources like seeds and nuts, it could help to improve health.