Want the Benefits of Fish Oil? Eat More Fish

A new study finds that fish oil pills make little difference in heart disease incidence over a placebo.

For the last several years research studies have looked at the health benefits of consuming more fish. As the studies progressed, researchers were able to identify components of fish that seemed to be associated with the heart disease prevention benefit and possibly the mental health benefit. A new study now questions whether fish-oil pills are a benefit to disease prevention.

According to a large scale, randomized, clinical trial that compared fish-oil pills with a placebo for more than six years, the study found little difference in heart disease incidence between the groups. The study, of more than 12,000 individuals with diabetes or prediabetes, and an average age of 64, found that incidence of heart attack, stroke and heart failure were almost identical between the groups.

One difference was significantly lower triglyceride levels, a type of blood fat, in the group taking the fish-oil pills. Shortly after this study, another large scale, review study reported on the lack of impact from fish-oil pills on mental processing and cognition. 

So what are the implications of these studies for those who currently take fish oil? The first take-home message is that fish-oils pills won’t magically improve your health. Second, is the big question of whether the health benefits that are clearly connected to fish consumption are related to eating fish in total versus only consuming fish oil? 

Since current evidence seems a bit unclear the best advice would seem to be the following:

  • Talk with your physician about your health risks before taking any supplements or making drastic diet changes
  • Follow the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation to consume fish, preferably oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and trout) at least twice a week
  • Prepare your fish by broiling, grilling or baking – limit the frequency of fried fish

 And finally, if you need help planning a diet that works for you – contact a Registered Dietitian (RD). Locate a RD in your area by visiting www.eatright.org.


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