What’s New in Omega-3 Research? A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • Taking supplements can be a bit of a crapshoot, because there is conflicting evidence on the effectiveness of many products on the market. However, fish oil, or omega-3 fatty acid, has long been touted for cardiovascular benefits. Here is some of the latest research on omega-3.


    Can Omega-3 prevent skin cancer?


    A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that omega-3 fish oils can help prevent skin cancer. Researchers explained that sunlight can induce immunity suppression, which hinders the body’s ability to protect against skin cancer and infection. The fish oil directly decreases the immunosuppression that sunlight would cause. 

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    Volunteers were given a 4g dose of omega-3 every day. Then they were exposed to either 8, 15 or 30 minutes of midday summer sun in Manchester, England, through the use of a light machine. Another group of volunteers took a placebo before sitting in front of the light machine.  Researchers found that immunosuppression was 50 percent lower in the volunteers who took the omega-3 and were exposed to 8 and 15 minutes of sunshine.  No significant impact was shown in the group that sat for 30 minutes in the light.


    Researchers note that sunscreen should still be worn, but that fish oil may offer extra protection.


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    Does fish oil protect against cardiovascular disease?


    A growing body of research has suggested that fish oil can improve blood flow by decreasing triglyceride levels and the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaques, and by reducing blood pressure.  Researchers hypothesize that a reduction in sympathetic nerve activity could be a major contributor. However, other studies have not found the same benefits, causing conflicting reports as to whether fish oil can protect against cardiovascular disease.


    According to a review of 20 studies, with a total of 70,000 participants, there is no statistically significant evidence that omega-3 supplements can prevent heart attack, stroke or premature death.  Researchers looked at 20 studies, which included 7,044 deaths, 3,993 cardiac deaths, 1,150 sudden deaths, 1,837 heart attacks and 1,409 strokes. Although, they said that the findings suggest omega-3 is not useful in everyday clinical practice, they do not rule out the idea that certain people could benefit from the supplement.


    Another recent analysis of studies on the effect of omega-3s on cardiovascular disease came to a different conclusion. Researchers found that consumption of fish and omega-3 supplements do, in fact, help prevent heart disease.  They also found that certain sources of omega-3s are more effective. Plant-derived sources, such as flaxseed and chia seeds, have less benefit than those from cold-water fish, due to the way our body processes those nutrients.


    Researchers also concluded that omega-3s offer benefits for other serious health problems besides heart disease, such as improving cognitive functioning and reducing inflammation.   Lastly, researchers say that it’s possible the conflicting findings on fish oil may be due to the effectiveness of modern drugs for treating heart disease. In studies where people are already taking a regimen of prescription medications to treat heart disease, the benefits of fish oil can be harder to determine, as it is less potent than pharmaceutical drugs and has to be used for an extended period of time.


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    Can Omega-3 help remove Alzheimer’s amyloid plaque?


     Vitamin D3 and omega-3 DHA(docosahexaenoic acid) may help the immune system clear amyloid plaques in the brain, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to another recent study.  Researchers isolated immune cells in blood samples taken from both Alzheimer’s patients and healthy participants. Researchers looked at macrophages, specifically, because they are responsible for removing waste products, such as amyloid beta, which clog the spaces between cells and hinders communication between them. They incubated the macrophages with amyloid beta for a few hours, and then added active vitamin D3 or active omega-3 DHA to some of the cells. They found that both the D3 and omega-3 improved the macrophages’ ability to absorb the amyloid beta, and less cell-death was present.


    Can fish oil prevent age-related vision loss?


    According to a June 2012 study published in the journal of Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, the omega-3 DHA may be able to prevent vision loss due to age. Researchers fed lab animals DHA, and found that they did not accumulate a toxic molecule that typically builds up in the retina with age. In normal aging, this toxin doubles as we age, but there was no increase in the lab animals.




    Fitzgerald, K. (2013, February 27). "Omega-3 Supplements May Prevent Skin Cancer." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/256917.php


    n.p. (2011, February 14). "Fish Oil Protects Against Cardiovascular Disease." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/216346.php


    Paddock, C. (2012, September 12). "Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements May Not Offer Heart Benefits After All." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/250142.php


    Oregon State University (2012, November 28). Analysis of conflicting fish oil studies finds that omega-3 fatty acids still matter. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121128143547.htm


    Paddock, C. (2013, February 6). "Alzheimer's Amyloid Plaque Removal May Be Aided By Vitamin D And Omega 3." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/255957.php


Published On: March 04, 2013