The Great Supplement Delusion: Omega-3 Supplements Not Beneficial

More and more scientific evidence disproving effectiveness of dietary supplements is being accumulated. Another piece of news that has recently come as a surprise is that fish oil and other supplements rich in omega-3s are not beneficial. While natural fish remains part of healthy diets, omega-3 pills now have a tarnished reputation.

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Many guidelines issued by healthcare organizations promote the use of omega-3 supplements, which are believed to be able to contribute to prevention of cardiovascular diseases. A meta-analysis carried out by an international team of scientists demonstrated that taking marine-derived omega-3s does not appear to bring any benefits, as far as heart health is concerned.

The revelation is echoed in several other studies, which looked into whether such supplements could benefit a particular organ or body system: contrary to the widespread assumption, omega-3s are not a cure-all, and there is no convincing evidence supporting their efficacy at helping those suffering from dementia, eye diseases, depression and several other conditions and disorders, which had previously been considered to be among the health problems that could be alleviated by means of taking omega-3 supplements. Similarly, their anti-cancer properties are dubious, as they appear to be able to reduce the risk of breast cancer, while increasing the risk for prostate cancer. The evidence available is not compelling, so omega-3s in the form of a dietary supplement seem to be a waste of money.

A long story

It all started with two Danish doctors who noticed that peoples living in Greenland rarely developed coronary heart disease, which led them to think it had something to do with their diet. It turned out their staple food was fatty, and since this fat was rich in omega-3s, they came to the conclusion that it was this compound that helped the Inuit people keep their heart healthy.

However, it appears that omega-3s themselves, if taken separately, do not have an effect equal to the one described by Danish physicians. The whole fish contains a good many other compounds, and it is their interplay that can benefit health, not fats alone. Besides, recent researches showed that the actual disease rate is just as high as in Western people!

While experiments in Petri dishes and mice suggest omega-3s could help prevent blood clots, improve hearth rhythm, reduce inflammation and benefit the heart some other ways, studies in people reveal no similar effect.

Something fishy

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A team of scientists from all over the world carried out a meta-analysis of studies looking into the effects of omega-3s. There were over 78,000 participants in total, and the 10 studies analyzed showed no benefits of taking omega-3 supplements for those with a high risk of cardiovascular diseases.

All this boils down to the recommendations issued by the American Heart Association: while some groups of patients could benefit from extra omega-3s taken as a dietary supplement, the general population does not really need them.

If you want to supply your body with enough nutrients, following a healthy diet, which includes fish, is still the best option. You can opt for salmon and other fatty species, which contain a lot of omega-3s. Fish should be accompanied by whole grains and vegetables: the good old Mediterranean diet is believed to be one of the most beneficial diets for heart health.

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