Is Fish Oil another Snake Oil?

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

Talk of the town was coconuts sometime back, how bad it was for the humans, and one lady professor claimed it was poison. Now the focus is on fish oil that has been popular and believed to lower the risk of inflammatory diseases, heart disease, stroke, and improve the intelligence of kids, among others.

A recent study on 15,000 people in the UK published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that participants taking a daily capsule of omega-3 fish oil did suffer from heart attack and stroke as much as people not taking any fish oil. The study revealed that 8.9 per cent of the people given the fish oil capsules suffered a heart attack or stroke, compared to 9.2 percent in a placebo group, and the difference is marginal.

This study was done on diabetics, and not on others. The question is will omega-3 fish oil capsules do help to prevent heart disease and stroke among the non-diabetics?

Another series of studies done by the South Australian researchers at the Medical Research Institute in Adelaide found that fish oil doesn’t make more intelligent and smarter babies.

A group of women were given a daily dose of 800mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish during the second half of their pregnancies. A second group of pregnant women were given a placebo.

The fish-oil kids – at 18 months old- showed no superior or accelerated cognitive, language, and motor development than the babies whose mothers took a placebo.

But, this does not prove that fish oil given to mothers are not doing some good to the foetus.

The beneficial factor in fish oil is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These two fatty acids have been considered so far to boost optimum brain function and regulating the serotonin levels in the brain. DHA is highly concentrated in the brain, retina, testicles and semen.

People often lack enough omega-3 fats (polyunsaturated), mainly DHA (anti-inflammatory) which is necessary to balance with the inflammatory omega-6 fat ratio. The ratio is considered 1:1.

What this implies is that taking more inflammatory polysaturated fatty acids as cooking oils, or in food may lead to inflammatory diseases. So, you need to increase your omega-3 fatty acids to neutralize the bad effects of the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega -3 fatty acids are found in vegetables, too. It is an essential fat that our body cannot make. These anti-inflammatory foods can repair damaged cells and restore a healthy balance that can prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease and arthritis. In one study, men took fish oil capsules containing DHA supplements for 12 weeks decreased the concentrations of several inflammatory markers in their blood by about 20%.

These omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from fatty fish, especially tuna, salmon, mackerel. Vegetables containing omega-3 fat are flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, canola oil,

In another study it was found that fish oil higher in EPA than DHA lowered inflammatory cytokines, associated with neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases.

Studies also showed that a dietary supplementation of fish oil lowers the activity of chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches.

It is observed that arthritic patients benefit and respond well on taking 10 capsules of fish oil a day. The National Heart Foundation in Australia advises some people with high risk factor for heart attack or existing heart disease to take omega-3 supplements.

Despite the above two studies mentioned- population studies have consistently found that omega-3 fatty acids cut down the risk of heart disease by 18 per cent.

Why then eat fish?

Fish is recommended twice a week for people, because of its health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids in the body of oily fish, which includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids being anti-inflammatory in action prevents chronic inflammatory diseases as mentioned earlier, including heart disease.

The rate of coronary heart disease among Japanese men is less than on third that of the U.S. at 45.8 (per 100,000/year). While American men have a rate of 150.7, though the percentage of men who smoke is 35.4%, more than double the rate of 17.2% in the U.S.

Japanese eat a lot more fish than Americans, and this is important, since omega-3 fatty acids, the type in which fish is abundant, are protective against heart disease/ A study done in 2005 found that the more fish the Japanese ate, the higher was their consumption of omega-3 fats, and the lower was their rate of heart disease

Bottomline: Do not get discouraged by the two studies showing that fish oil does not benefit to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and not help in enhancing the I.Q. of kids.

Population studies and epidemiological observations prove otherwise.

Hope this article will convince you to continue taking fish oil supplements

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