Studies Dent Image of Fish Oil Pills

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Dad’s always pointing out the buy one, get one free offers at the pharmacy where we shop. One of his favorite “buys” is fish oil pills.

    These pills, which are usually made from mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, cod liver whale blubber or seal blubber, are often taken to combat a wide range of conditions. The most prevalent reason many provide for using these supplements is related to the heart and blood system. However, a new study suggests that these supplements aren’t as effective as eating fish for people who are at high risk of heart problems who already take medications for their condition.

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    The study out of Italy involved 12,513 people who had not had a heart attack, but were considered as being high risk because they had diabetes, high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure and/or smoked, were obese, or had other conditions. Most of these participants reported taking aspirin, statins (to lower high cholesterol) or other medications in order to lower their risk of a cardiovascular event.

    The researchers randomly assigned 6,244 of the participants to take 1 gram a day of fish oil; the other participants received a placebo. These participants were then followed by a network of 860 general practitioners in Italy during the course of the study.

    Initially, the researchers planned to compare the rate of death, heart attacks and strokes of each group; however, these measures proved to be lower than researchers had hypothesized. Therefore, the researchers refocused their research to look at when participants suffered a stroke or heart attack or were hospitalized for a cardiovascular issue. Their analysis found that both groups had the same hospitalization rate (slightly lower than 12 percent).  Thus, the researchers determined that people who take medications to lower their heart attack risks did not benefit from taking a fish oil supplement.

    This study comes on the heels of another study that found that fish-oil pills along with supplements of two carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) do not increase the effectiveness of a popular vitamin and mineral combination (vitamins C and 3, beta carotene and zinc) that had previously been found to be helpful in staving off macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness. This study involved 4,203 people who were at high risk of progressing to advanced macular degeneration.  The researchers divided them into groups. All participants took the original supplement formulation or variations containing less zinc and/or no beta carotene). One group also took fish oil pills while another group took the carotenoids. A third group took both the fish oil pill and the carotenoids. A fourth group took a placebo. The researchers found that 1,608 of the participants went on to developed advanced macular degeneration, no matter which treatment they took. 

    While these studies throw some cold water on the health benefits of fish oil, these supplements are described by Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. national Library of Medicine, as being effective in lowering high triglyceride levels and likely effective in helping people who already have heart disease lower their risk of dying from this condition (as long as they’re not taking other heart medications). Ina addition, fish oil supplements are described as possibly effective for high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, menstrual pain, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children; Raynaud’s syndrome, stroke, osteoporosis, hardening of the arteries, kidney problems, bipolar disorder, psychosis, weight loss, endometrial cancer, recurrent miscarriage in pregnant women with antiphyospholipid syndrome, high blood pressure and kidney problems after heart transplant, dyspraxia (movement disorder) in children, developmental coordination disorder; preventing blockage of grafts used in kidney dialysis, psoriasis, coronary artery bypass surgery, cancer-related weight loss and asthma.

  • While that’s a lot of potential benefits from fish oil supplements, I’m not good about remembering to take pills. That’s why I’m trying to add more fish to our menu, knowing that it’s part of a Mediterranean diet, which researchers have found to be one of the healthiest ways to eat. Tomorrow night fish tacos are on the menu! And over the weekend, we'll be having salmon! Bon appetit!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    Consumer Reports. (2013).  Fish-oil pills don’t help prevent blindness.

    Marchione, M. (2013). Study: Fish oil’s work against heart attacks limited. USA Today.

    Medline Plus. (2012). Fish oil. U.S. National Library of Medicine.

    Ronaglioni, M. C. (2013). N-3 fatty acids in patients with multiple cardiovascular risk factors. The New England Journal of Medicine.

Published On: May 09, 2013