"Fish Oil" Supplements: Is The Hype Exceeding The Science?

in stemng •  14 days ago
Ever since scientific studies have build up a case linking fish-based diet and good health, many companies have isolated the beneficial elements of such diets — decosaexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — and produce their capsule versions as fish oil supplements which are expected to deliver the same health benefits as the ones occurring naturally in most fishes. This article attempts to determine if indeed the fish oil supplements are conferring the same health benefits on individuals in much the same way raw fish-based diet would. Or is it just a hype by companies to rip off the public? Let's find out.


Since the time of antiquity, people have been using various parts of fish for medicinal purposes on the premise of their potency against myriads of diseases. For example; it is a general belief among Spaniards that madness can be cured by using fish bile, and even the canonical book of the Holy Bible — Tobias — has a recorded case of people using fish gallbladders to treat blindness. So man's using of fish for therapeutic purposes is a prehistoric issue. True as that maybe, however, the modern scientific interest to unravel the protective health benefits of oily fish was kindled in the '70s following a study from Denmark in which indigenous Greenlanders known with a fish-rich diet were found to have low rates of coronary artery diseases and diabetes.

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Source: Pixabay CC0 licensed image

Ever since then, many studies have been carried out in an attempt to unravel if indeed there was a link between fish consumption and healthiness, with virtually all results of such studies proving beyond any reasonable doubt that there is a correlation between good health and fish consumption. And later studies would identify two key polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids chemically known as decosaexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) as the beneficial elements of the fish-rich diet. Both DHA and EPA are said to be abundant in fatty fishes such as mackerel, sardines, herring and salmons. Apart from these two fish-occuring fatty acids, there is also another one — alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) said to be abundant in plants including walnuts, chia seeds, canola oil, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds.

According the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the beneficial elements — DHA and EPA — are crucial in ensuring normal brain functioning, proper growth and development as well as preventing inflammation. Some studies specifically pointed at the omega-3s as being responsible for lowered blood levels of triglycerides. And deficiencies in these vital fish constituents have been known to result in various health challenges including arthritis, cardiovascular issues, mood disorders, reduced vision, amongst others. As physiologically important as these omega-3s are, our bodies cannot make them. We have to get them from outside by eating those things where they are said to be in abundance.

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Source: Pixabay CC0 licensed image

To help American population meet the daily amount of the omega-3s intake, the federal advisory committee authored the Dietary Guildlines for Americans 2015-2020 advising adults to eat around 8 ounces of a variety of seafood weekly. But there is a problem; not everyone likes to eat oily fish. Different individuals have various reasons they might not fancy fish-rich meals. Such reasons could be that they find it smelly, expensive, vomit-inducer (I fall into this class). A study published in Nutrition journal in 2014 found that, on average, American men only take 1.4 ounces of omega-3-rich fish-based meals weekly, which is a far cry from the weekly recommended 8 ounces.

Beating the hurdles

Following overwhelming evidences linking consumption of fish-rich diets to numerous health benefits, and obvious lack of interest in fish-based diets by most folks, many companies capitalized on this to come up with the idea of mass production of fish oil supplements with intention to provide veritable alternative to those having issues against fish meals. In that sense, omega-3s supplements are claimed to offer the same cancer-fighting, heart-saving, brain-preserving benefits as real fish. With massive publicity by these companies followed by numerous studies validating claims over the heart health benefits of dietary fish oil supplementation, amongst others, it wasn't long before fish oil supplements were endorsed by heart health-based associations and FDA.

The massive marketing of omega-3 fatty supplements as well as favorable positions of extant public institutions led to astronomical increase in public patronage of these supplements. 7.8% Americans were said to have used fish oil supplements in 2012, according to a popular study by National Institute of Health, in which it was noted in the conclusion that omega-3s are among the most widely used supplements in the United States.

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Source: Pixabay CC0 licensed image

Supplements accepted publicly based on hype but what does the underlying science say?🤔🤔

However, there have been increasing research findings of recent, questioning the agelong claim that omega-3 acid supplementations are beneficial to patients with coronary heart disease or individuals who are at risk of cardiovascular diseases. Most recent studies state that If there is any health benefit associated with fish oil supplementation, it certainly has nothing to do with cardiovascular health in particular. In other words, taking fish oil supplements in the hope of enjoying good heart health may not necessarily translate into that. And even the cancer-curbing claims have equally been discredited by some reports claiming to have found an increased risk of prostrate cancer among men taking omega-3s supplements, instead.

In a related development, Italian scientists released a research report in which they claimed to have found omega-3 fatty acid supplements to be incapable of preventing strokes, heart attacks or deaths among heart disease patients and individuals at higher than normal risk of cardiovascular failure. The report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May 2013. In a similar fashion, more recently, in what looks like the final straw in a series of overwhelming evidences against claims of cardiovascular benefits of fish oil supplement consumption, a large scale meta-analysis that involved collecting data from 79 trials that comprise a total of 112,059 subjects, has been carried out and the result agreed with the conclusions of previous studies that found no relationship between consumption of omega-3 acid supplements and improved heart health.

The findings of the foregoing studies appear to contradict the agelong position of various studies that claimed to have found a correction between consumption of omega-3 fatty acid supplements and low risk of cardiovascular disease. One researcher at the Quadram Institute Bioscience, who was not part of the team that carried out the latest study, Ian Johnson, thinks that it is possible that the health-enhancing ingredients in oily fishes are more than just the omega-3 fatty acid constituents.

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Source: Pixabay CC0 licensed image

"Either the protective effects of oily fish consumption that are observed in populations are due to mechanisms that cannot be reproduced by relatively short-term interventions with purified omega 3 supplements, or perhaps they are caused by other unidentified environmental factors somehow linked to oily fish consumption, " says Johnson Source

Even as this debate rages on, experts generally agree that increasing concentrations of blood omega-3 fatty acids helps in reducing the level of triglycerides in the blood. However, individuals on blood thinners must avoid omega-3 fatty acid supplements as it could lead to increased risk of bleeding. Experts' opinions suggest taking whole fish-rich diets at least 8 ounces 3 times a week is more healthier and preferable than taking fish oil supplements, as no recent research has linked the supplement's omega-3s to enhancing heart health. This is not to say that you should not take the supplements. But please, if you must take it, do it with the full consent of your doctor and under his/her supervision.

Based on the contemporary research results, the answer to the question raised by title of this article — "Fish Oil supplements: Is the hype exceeding the Science? — is a resounding YES. The hype is actually exceeding the Science as most people are yet to be informed about the current research position, while supplement-manufacturing continue to rake in millions of dollar in sales revenue. Have a great day.

Source references

@olamseu

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Little wonder there is always a disclaimer from the FDA about the dietary claims and other claims of supplement makers.

The disclaimer looks like this:

Legal Disclaimer
Statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition.

Any idea why the FDA is unable or refuse to evaluate the claims of supplements in the market?

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These companies brought in lobbyists to push legislation that would codify the benefits of fish oil into federal product labeling guidance. Those efforts proved so successful that by 2004, the FDA allowed dietary fish oil supplement labels to state that the capsules may reduce coronary heart disease risk.

The government’s optimism remained guarded, however; the FDA stated that the research was “not conclusive.”
source

It's all political gimmicks sir. I hope the above answers your question.

Thanks for visiting by the way.

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Not just for fish oil supplements, there is always that disclaimer below every supplement in the market. It is like the FDA tries to absolve themselves of blame from harm which users may incur since they explicitly states that they did not verify the claim.

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Yes. That's the truth.

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Well, that's not really good.

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You comment this much. I love the way you engage. I will borrow a leaf. So happy for your visit. It means a lot to me. Thanks

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If you like a post, it becomes easy to comment on it :)

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Okay sir!

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