Should You Take Fish Oil? The Story Behind the Headlines
It’s been all over the news. A study review published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that taking fish oil did not prevent heart attack or stroke survivors from having another cardiac event.
One news headline read, “Fish Oil Delivers Few Heart Benefits, Study Finds.” This type of media hype drives me nuts because some people will read that headline, stop taking fish oil, and we can watch all cardiac events rise!
Here’s what the news sources should be telling you…
For this study, researchers examined 14 clinical trials which included more than 20,000 people who all had a history of cardiovascular disease. When they looked at the data, they discovered that there was no difference in the likelihood of a repeat cardiovascular event, or a cardiovascular related death, in those who took fish oil versus a placebo.
What they didn’t tell you is that more than 20,000 articles have supported the benefits of fish oil for preventing heart disease. Plus, the researchers completely overlooked the GISSI prevention trial, which is considered the gold standard of fish oil studies.
In the GISSI trial researchers monitored more than 11,000 highly vulnerable patients who suffered a recent heart attack and found that patients who took one gram of fish oil a day had 40 percent fewer deaths than patients not taking fish oil. In fact, that trial was stopped early because the patients taking the placebo were dying at faster rates.
What people also need to understand is that there’s a right, and a wrong, way to take fish oil:
- For heart protection, you need to take at least one gram of omega-3 rich fish oil each day, preferably two. Many over-the-counter fish oil supplements deliver far less than one gram, with some containing as little as 300 mg. Those small doses won’t protect your heart.
- DHA omega-3s are critical. Research has shown that while both the EPA and DHA omega-3s found in fish oil are important, it’s the DHA omega-3s that reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. So you want to make sure you’re getting at least 550 mg of DHA per day. This is one reason I prefer Calamarine to general fish oil—it’s very rich in DHA.
- Ensure that any fish oil you take isn’t oxidized. Taking oxidized fish oil, which means air got into the oil, is like eating trans-fatty acids. It can cause serious heart damage. Make sure any fish oil softgel you take isn’t cracked or leaking, which can cause oxidation. Also avoid liquid fish oil supplements, even if they’re refrigerated, since the oil can be oxidized.
- Purity is also critical. You want to ensure that any fish oil supplement you take is free of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants.
Now it’s your turn: Do you take a fish oil supplement?
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Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a highly respected and sought-after cardiologist and nutritionist with more than 30 years of clinical practice, research, and study. His integrative approach to heart health focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and maximizing the heart's ability to produce and use energy. More About Dr. Sinatra
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