A large scale study of 70,000 people, carried out at the University Hospital of Ionnia in Greece and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that it doesn’t prevent heart attacks, strokes or deaths from heart disease
Another study of 20,000 people in South Korea came to the same conclusions as did a study of almost 5,000 men with heart disease reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the last study half the men were given omega 3 supplements but the number of heart attacks for that group was no different from those who didn’t receive the fish oil.
Omega 3 oil is needed for many bodily functions and comes entirely from our diet. It is found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines.
The British Heart Foundation still stands by its advice to take 400mg a day and the NHS advice is to take supplements after a heart attack if the diet doesn’t supply it (a typical serving of salmon contains 3,000mg).
And the European Food Standards Agency, which is evaluating and clamping down on supplements, still allows “general health claims” that omega 3 oil helps maintain normal vision and heart and brain functions as well as normal growth and development of children.
There is also some evidence that omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties that might help arthritis sufferers (some sufferers claim it is more effective than paracetamol in reducing pain) as well as studies that show it has anti-ageing properties – not so much a wrinkle remover but it works at the cellular level reducing biological ageing.
Some people claim it boosts their energy, reduces depression, and improves concentration – one reason experiments have been carried out in schools to help combat disruptive behaviours. Research in Australia showed that it also helped improve spelling, particularly among boys.
For post-war baby boomers there was free orange juice and the dreaded cod liver oil which had been introduced during the war to compensate for restricted diets due to wartime food shortages. The NHS stopped supplying it in 1975 although mothers on benefits can still get vitamin drops free if they ask.
For the 20% of the population who take fish oil daily we have to buy it and it’s a big part of the £400 million a year supplements market.
So disappointing news if you are taking them as a preventative against strokes and heart diseases but the evidence is they do no harm and probably help you maintain a healthy body. I’ll still be taking them.
Prime source: Sunday Times Focus 7 October 2012