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Fish oil is not medicine – this is what it cannot do

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Posted November 20, 2019

Fish oil is one of the most widely used food supplements in the world. It’s been around for decades and people are sort of taking it for granted. But why are you taking it? Are you sure it does what you think it does?

Fish oil is one of the most popular supplements in the world, but it is not a medicine. Image credit: Oddman47 via Wikimedia

Fish oil is a basic Omega-3 fat acid supplement. Maybe except vitamin C, it is the most popular supplement in a big part of the world. And it may have its uses. For example, studies have shown that it may have beneficial effects on psoriasis. It may help you in other ways too, but the problem is that the research is often lacking.

If you asked fish oil users why are they taking these supplements, they will start naming all kinds of benefits. Soon you would notice that different people list different effects. How come? Shouldn’t fish oil have one-two major benefits?

Heart disease. Heart disease is one of the major causes of death in the world and many people believe fish oil supplements can help you avoid that. A meta-analysis conducted in 2012 showed that there is no evidence that Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation reduces the chance of death, cardiac death, heart attack or stroke.

Meanwhile the US National Institutes of Health says that fish oil can be beneficial for such conditions as hypertriglyceridemia (high triglyceride level), hypertension and secondary cardiovascular disease prevention. But that is about it. Studies are conflicting and no real hard evidence has been found.

Hypertension. Fish oil does seem to lower blood pressure, but omega-3 fatty acids can also increase the risk of bleeding.

Crohn’s disease. This belief is a bit more rare, but many people take fish oil supplements for Crohn’s disease. However, a 2014 study showed that fish oil supplements is not effective for maintenance of remission in Crohn’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease. Again, there are some conflicting results from different studies. But a  2012 meta-analysis found no protective effects of fish oil against Alzheimer’s disease.

Mental health. A very recent study from the University of East Anglia reviewed 31 trials of adults with and without depression or anxiety. They included more than 41,470 participants, analysed through a lengthy amount of time. Result? As usual – fish oil supplements had little or no effect in preventing depression or anxiety symptoms.

You get the idea. Even in cases where fish oil showed some promise, the effects could either be attributed to placebo effect or surpassed by other modern medicine. Fish oil seems to be good at reducing pain in rheumatoid arthritis and blood triglyceride levels, but not as good as some other medicine.

This does not mean that fish oil is useless. If you feel it helps you – all the power to you. You just have to be conscious of its role – it is just a food supplement, not medicine. You should never replace proven therapies with fish oil. And you should also consult a professional if you have any doubts about taking care of your health.

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