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Fish Oil Benefits: Should You Take Supplements?

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There have been good news and bad news about fish oil lately. One of the main fish oil benefits, prevention of heart disease, has been questioned. As would be expected, the media is all over this one. Now, the question is, do you really need fish oil supplements?

First, let’s take a quick look at the news story that appears headed toward controversy super-highway. According to a study a study done in Greece and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, fish oil may not have benefits for heart health as previously believed.

Taking fish oil pills rich in omega-3 fatty acids doesn’t appear to have a significant effect on heart attacks, strokes or death, a study published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association finds.

The news comes even as sales of fish oil supplements are booming. In 2011 Americans spent $1.1 billion on them, up 5.4% from 2010, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.

The researchers reviewed 20 well-designed clinical trials that looked at the health outcomes of people taking omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements derived from fish oils. The trials dated from 1989 to 2012 and included 68,680 people who were studied for at least a year. They found no statistically significant association between all deaths, cardiac-related deaths, sudden deaths, heart attacks and strokes among people taking the supplements. See original story

So, should you take fish oil supplements? Okay, the simple answer is a resounding yes, if only for the other benefits that come with these. All the same, that fish oil has been shown to have benefits in the management of cholesterol and triglycerides may be indicative of positive benefits for the heart and stroke risk as well.

While you can expect more science-based rejoinders to the above-quoted study, some experts have already responded:

It’s important to note that the group analyzed in the JAMA study are high-risk heart patients. Expecting fish oil to prevent future heart attacks or strokes in people already vulnerable to them is like expecting a Band-Aid to hold back a gushing wound.

Say you’re already overweight and have diabetes—both big risk factors for heart disease. An omega-3 supplement won’t help you much. “There is no way to take these results and assume they apply to healthy people. Of course fish oil is not a cure. If someone is already falling apart, omega-3s won’t put them back together,” says Alan Aragon, M.S., Men’s Health nutrition advisor. Men’s Health

In a separate study, researchers at Oxford University found that children on DHA fish oil supplements may perform better in reading scores:

Over the 16-week trial, the children receiving placebos progressed in their reading skills as expected. But those students who received DHA and had scored in the bottom 20% of readers at the start of the study advanced by nearly an extra month, while those in the bottom 10% gained nearly two extra months of progress. Students whose reading skills were less impaired — those whose scores had placed them at the highest end of the bottom third — did not see extra improvements with DHA. See original story

This is not the first study that indicates a positive connection between fish oil and the brain. Previous studies have shown that supplementing with fish oil, while it may not turn kids into little Einsteins, in fact help kids do better in school. Yet there are many more benefits that come with these supplements.

One study even shows that the fish oil supplements may help minimize the effects of air pollution in the body.

Over the course of a four-week period, researchers took 29 middle-aged, healthy adults and gave each of them either three grams of olive oil or fish oil. The participants were then exposed to two consecutive hours of unclean air and cardiac responses were measured. Upon assessing the responses to the air pollution, it was discovered that the participants had various acute negative responses including in white blood cell activity, yet the participants who were given the fish oil experienced lesser symptoms. As a result, researchers concluded that the fish oil provided the participants with increased protection against the harmful lipid and cardiac effects associated with the exposure to air pollution. See: Breathe Easier With Fish Oil

Indeed, there are way too many studies that show the benefits of fish oil supplements to list in one post. So the answer as to whether you should take fish oil supplements is, again, a resounding yes.

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