Revisiting the 2018 Omega-3 Controversy
Several media outlets latched on to some new research published last year about omega-3 fatty acids that may have caused some patients to question whether or not fish oil supplements are even necessary. One of the papers that received a lot of attention was published in JAMA Cardiology. It was a meta-analysis of ten clinical trials featuring nearly 78,000 participants. While many of the headlines associated with this meta-analysis concluded that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation had no significant effect on heart health, very few of the articles pointed out the flaws of this analysis.
One of the first problems was the dosages used in the various studies that were analyzed. In fact, four of the ten studies featured in the analysis used EPA/DHA doses that fall short of the 500 mg/day that is recommended by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).
According to Bruce Holub, PhD, of the University of Guelph, “As far as overall results are concerned, I think it would be unfair to conclude from this paper that there was no apparent benefit of EPA/DHA omega-3 supplementation in regards to cardiovascular health.”
Also in 2018, authors of a Cochrane review concluded that omega-3 supplementation had little or no effect on heart health. However, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) pointed out that there was a disconnect between the conclusions made by the authors and the well-established effects that omega-3s have on heart health. “Of note, multiple studies, including those in this review, have shown that omega-3s significantly reduce triglycerides and raise ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL),* both of which are vital factors for maintaining a healthy heart,” wrote Andrea Wong, PhD, vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs for CRN.
The fact is, there are numerous studies demonstrating the positive health effects that omega-3s have on many body systems, including the heart.* Authors of a 2018 review published in the Annual Review of Food Science and Technology pointed out that “In the past few decades, many epidemiological studies have been conducted on the myriad health benefits of omega-3 PUFAs.” The research has demonstrated that omega 3 fatty acids play an important role in maintaining healthy immune function and healthy inflammatory balance, which remain central to supporting cardiovascular health.*
In addition, a 2018 prospective cohort study published in BMJ demonstrated an association between high levels of circulating omega-3 fatty acids and healthy aging among older adults that participated in the Cardiovascular Health Study. A 2017 meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at 51 randomized controlled trials and found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation supported healthy heart rate.*
Because of the many important health benefits that omega-3s have, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people eat eight or more ounces of fish each week. “Unfortunately, most Americans are not consuming that amount, causing our population to experience nutrient shortfalls,” said Duffy MacKay, ND, senior vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs for CRN. “When taking into consideration the high safety profile of omega-3 fatty acid supplements, they are a prudent choice to ensure that consumers obtain adequate levels of this nutrient needed for good health.”*
Abdelhamid AS, Brown TJ, Brainard JS, et al. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. 2018;July 18.
Aung T, Halsey J, Kromhout D, et al. JAMA Cardiology. 2018;3(3):225-234.
Hidayat K, Yang J, Zhang Z, et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017;72:805-817.
Lai H, Ott Mc, Lemaitre RN, et al. BMJ. 2018;363:k4067.
Shahidi F, Ambigaipalan P. Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. 2018;9(1):345-381.