A Fishy Story
Updated: May 4, 2019
If you are confused by recent news about fish oil, you are not alone. It's hard not to be skeptical of health news when you see this type of juxtaposition. In late August in the New England Journal of Medicine, a study about Fish Oil came out. The conclusion was that fish oil supplements were no better for diabetics than placebo.
At the same time, results of another study evaluating the efficacy of a prescription fish oil were released, this time with positive results for those with high triglycerides. But only with this prescription fish oil, which is Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), instead of a usual mixture of EPA with Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Maybe a coincidence. Here's one article about why we may want to withhold drawing conclusions from the study just yet, and another on why some positive news coverage may be premature. But there is concern with discrediting regular OTC fish oil, which many practitioners and patients alike find benefit with.
We find that when supplements like fish oil are used to enhance the effects of positive lifestyle and diet changes, which make the biggest impact, they can provide that extra boost that allows someone to reduce their dependence on any prescription. This is particularly true when one is deficient in their omega 3s. Also, the quality of product does make a large difference in the benefits one sees. For our patients, we help them choose high-quality brands that we have seen provide reliable benefits. One marker of a poor product is belch-back, or fish burps. Another is being able to smell fish through the capsule. The odor is caused by oxidation, which renders the oils damaging, not beneficial.
Finally, to avoid the supplement issue altogether, get your EPA, DHA, and a multitude of other nutrients from fatty low-mercury fish like salmon and sardines, and nuts/seeds like walnuts and flaxseeds. Here’s a useful fish guide from Enviromental Working Group to get you started. Eating omega threes as part of your diet will reduce the need to supplement with capsules.