A NEW STUDY ASSESSED HEALTH CLAIMS on fish oil supplement labels in the United States. It also examined doses of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in widely available formulations. Today, I share why I stopped taking fish oil.
We’ll look at health claims and the evidence regarding fish oil.
If you don’t care to read anything more, here is my key takeaway: The EPA dose analysis of 255 fish oil supplements across 16 major brands found “substantial variability.”
Moreover, multiple randomized clinical trials have shown no cardiovascular benefit to fish oil supplements.
Here is principal author Dr. Joanna Assadourian’s take on fish oil:
“As a preventive cardiologist, I tell my patients — that are taking fish oil to try to avoid heart disease — they can stop taking it because it’s not helping them. Their money would be better spent on something that will prevent a heart attack, like more fresh vegetables, their blood pressure or cholesterol medication, or a gym membership.”
Supplements Bring in $$$
Dietary supplements are a huge business in the United States. The industry is worth over $50 billion.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
Six out of 10 adults regularly take a supplement to support their health.
The CDC discovered that from 2017 through 2020, 35 percent of children and adolescents took at least one dietary supplement in the previous 30 days.
Use appeared higher among females than males (except among children 12 to 24 months). Supplement use rose with income and education among adults.
Supplement use, in general, increased with age among adults. This finding is in accord with what I find with my patients.
Fish Oil Supplements — Qualified Health Claims
Many manufacturers make claims that fish oil supplements have health benefits. My patients who take them tend to do so to improve their heart health.
A new analysis from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas (USA) examined data from on-market fish oil (and non-fish omega-3 fatty acid) supplement labels.
The researchers reviewed the prevalence of two types of claims regarding cardiovascular disease: qualified health claims and structure/function ones.
The study revealed two cardiovascular-related qualified health claims for fish oil:
- Coronary heart disease benefits
- Blood pressure benefits
Here is an example the study offers: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumptions of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
Fish Oil — Structure/Function Claims
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains that a structure/function claim “describes the role of a nutrient or dietary ingredient intended to affect the structure or function in humans.’’
Such claims cannot declare that the supplement prevents, treats, or cures any illness or disease.
You probably have heard some structure/function claims: “Supports heart, mind, and mood” or “promotes heart health.”
How Common Are Fish Oil Health Claims?
My patients frequently take fish oil supplements based on second-hand information. Are claims for fish oil supplements common? Absolutely.
Here are the numbers for cardiovascular disease: About six in 10 (62 percent) related to heart health.
Of over 2,800 unique fish oil supplements assessed, 74 percent had at least one health claim, mostly structure/function. Another 19 percent made qualified health claims, mostly relating to coronary heart disease.
Are These Fish Oil Claims Problematic?
Let’s get back to why I no longer take fish supplements. It all boils down to this statement from the study authors:
“Multiple randomized clinical trials have shown no cardiovascular benefit to fish oil supplements.”
Moreover, they add that the pervasiveness of structure/function claims could lead to misinformation among consumers.
The researchers observe that one in five adults over 60 take fish oil supplements for heart health despite no high-level evidence to support the practice.
Oh, it gets worse: After examining the dose within 255 fish oil supplements (across 16 major brands), the scientists discovered “substantial variability” in the daily dose of EPA (median 340 mg; range 135–647), DHA, and total EPA + DHA (median 600 (300 to 1100) mg/day.
Over nine percent contained a daily dose of two grams or more EPA _ DHA.
Why I Stopped Taking Fish Oil
Are you using fish oil for brain, joint, or eye health? Again, no data from randomized clinical trials supports any such benefits. That’s why I stopped taking fish oil.
If you’re considering fish oil supplements, they are not harmless for everyone. Please check with a valued healthcare professional before adding it to your wellness routine.
To learn more about the potential side effects of fish oil, here’s a link to WebMD:
My Strategies to Improve My Heart Health
I use these approaches to optimize my heart health, ones endorsed by the Mayo Clinic (USA):
- I don’t use tobacco.
- I move, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity weekly and two resistance training sessions.
- I eat a heart-healthy diet.
- I maintain a healthy weight.
- I get quality sleep (most of the time).
- I manage stress.
- I get regular health screening tests.