Most Fish Oil Supplements Not Healthy at All, Study Finds

For a long time, fish oil supplements were advocated as a way to increase health, particularly heart health. However, recent research has found mixed results about their effects, even as certain supplement companies continue to market their products as having significant health impacts.

Despite these mixed findings, about 10% of adults in the U.S. still choose to take fish oil supplements. A recent study has revealed that many of these supplement companies make assertions that have not been thoroughly tested, and the levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Key Findings of the Study

The study indicates that most fish oil supplements on the market make health claims not substantiated by clinical trial data.

Research analysts examined the labels of over 2,800 fish oil supplements for the study. Of these, approximately 74% (2,082) made at least one health claim. However, only 19.2% (399) of these used a qualified health claim approved by the FDA.

Interestingly, nearly 81% of these supplements made assertions about the structure or function of the supplements, such as promoting heart health, with cardiovascular claims being the most common.

The study also identified significant variations in the amounts of omega-3s EPA and DHA, across different supplements.

The study concludes that most labels of fish oil supplements suggest health benefits across various organ systems, even without sufficient trial data to support these claims. Additionally, there is considerable diversity and quality in the daily doses of EPA and DHA in these supplements, potentially leading to differences in safety and effectiveness.

“based on what I’ve seen personally in the grocery store and pharmacy, I was not surprised to find such high rates of health claims on fish oil supplements. What was surprising, though, was just how broad the types of claims being made was — from heart and brain health to joint health, eye health and immune function.”

Joanna Assadourian, lead study author and a fourth-year medical student at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Dr. Ann Marie Navar, co-author of the study and associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, noted that many patients take fish oil supplements with the belief that it benefits their heart health. However, she emphasized that randomized trials have shown no such benefit in terms of heart attacks or strokes.

Experts’ Views

It’s important to note that the supplement industry in the U.S. is largely unregulated. Companies can introduce new supplements to the market without FDA approval, as long as they adhere to FDA safety and labeling guidelines.

“This is an important reminder that supplements are not FDA regulated, and you may not truly know what is in the bottle, despite what the label says. This also highlights that the ‘health benefits’ touted by many supplement manufacturers are often not based on real evidence and are misleading. Patients need to be aware and educated before spending money on unhelpful products”

Dr. Ali Haider, an interventional cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens

Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, an interventional cardiologist, highlighted the need for caution with supplements, including fish oil. He cautioned that manufacturers can make unverified claims about their products.

Registered dietitian Scott Keatley explained that longstanding beliefs and earlier studies have contributed to the popularity of fish oil supplements. Changing such deeply embedded beliefs can be challenging, even when new evidence emerges.

In clinical practice, doctors usually administer DHA and EPA at doses of 2 to 4 grams a day to lower triglyceride levels. However, studies have not proven that fish oil supplements reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Dr. Navar explained that the confusion around fish oil supplements stems from evolving science and ongoing administrative processes. While early data suggested potential benefits, subsequent large trials have not demonstrated these benefits for the general population.

Conclusion

Two FDA-approved fish oil-based drugs exist, but they’re intended for specific cases like high triglyceride levels. For most people, fish oil supplements are not strongly recommended.

Dr. Chen pointed out potential risks associated with supplements, including additives, fillers, bleeding, and atrial fibrillation. Dr. Navar advised patients to consider more effective options for heart health. And to consult their doctors before taking fish oil supplements.

The study underscores the need for careful consideration and informed discussions with healthcare professionals before incorporating fish oil supplements.

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