Fish Oil Supplement Claims for Weight Loss and Heart Health

Fish Oil Pills Supplements - Image Credit: Petr Kratochvil
According to the data, fish oil supplements are currently among the three most popular dietary supplements sold in the U.S., with annual sales estimated at around $1.2 Billion per year.

For many years now, the American public has been urged to take fish oil supplements by various organizations, healthcare professionals and popular diet gurus for heart health, brain health, weight loss and a sundry of other health conditions.  For example, in the world of weight loss and fat burning, two Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found in large amounts in the oil of cold-water fish have been promoted as preventing and lowering body fat stores, and aiding in oxidation (burning) of stored fat.

However, the actual scientific data may actually not support the claims that fish oil supplements are the answer to preventing the risk for coronary heart disease nor an effective weight loss tool.  The results of various studies and research are contradictory.  Unfortunately, many organizations and individuals urging the public to buy fish oil pills cherry pick the studies they cite in support of the claims they are making.  Even worse, some of these organizations and individuals actually sell fish oil pills under their own brand name which they market as being the purest and highest quality.

According to a review of studies published in an American Association Journal last year, the "accrual of high-level evidence that the supplements lack efficacy across a range of health outcomes".  For example, over a seven year period, from 2005 to 2012, only two of at least two dozen rigorous studies published in leading medical journals found that fish oil supplements may have some benefit on lowering the risk for cardiovascular disease in high-risk patients; all of the remaining studies showed no benefit derived from fish oil supplementation compared to a placebo.

The real benefit of fish oil supplementation for various health issues is controversial and confusing. Which expert and which study to believe, which to rely on?  Unfortunately, data collected on the dietary habits of people eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) reveals that they are not getting the healthy Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio from the food they eat.  Many experts believe that its this imbalance in the ratio of Omega 3:6 that is of concern.  However, most people are in search for a quick fix to their overweight or other medical or health issue.  The American public is highly susceptible to promises of the magic pill, the silver bullet, the life-saving and/or life-prolonging elixir.

Reputable physicians and other healthcare professionals recommend getting macronutriets and micronutrients from dietary sources, not from supplementation, if at all possible.  They further recommend that individuals consult with a trusted, qualified health care professional and do their own research before taking any dietary supplement, as certain supplements have been found ineffective at best and even detrimental at worst.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH) posts this on its website:

If You Are Considering Omega-3 Supplements
  • Do not use omega-3 supplements to replace conventional care or to postpone seeing a health care provider about a health problem.
  • Consult your health care provider before using omega-3 supplements. If you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding; if you take medicine that affects blood clotting; if you are allergic to fish or shellfish; or if you are considering giving a child an omega-3 supplement, it is especially important to consult your (or your child's) health care provider.
  • Look for published research studies on omega-3 supplements for the health condition that interests you. Information on evidence-based studies is available from NCCIH.
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
To learn more:
Omega-3 Supplements for Heart Disease: What the Science Says (NCCIH Clinical Digest)
Weight Control (NIH)
Omega-3 Supplements:  An Introduction (NIH)
Fish Oil Claims Not Supported by Research (NY Times)
Fish Oil Pills:  A $1.2 Billion Industry Built, So Far, on Empty Promises (Washington Post)

Fish Oil Supplements and the Vegan Diet
Fats: Good, Bad and Ugly
Fat Facts

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