The news flashed across the screen—"Omega-3 fats do nothing to help heart patients. Use your money elsewhere!"
It was all over the media, TV, radio, online and in print.
Coincidentally, I was scheduled to do radio interviews all day on … you guessed, omega-3 fats.
Well, this study quickly changed the tone of the radio interviews and the questions asked from those interviewing me.
As you know, we’re big fans of omega-3 fats, both through eating fish and taking a high-quality fish oil. We’ve talked about them before and are supported by many, many studies done over the last several decades.
This study was different.
It was published in the highly regarded Journal of the American Medical Association. And though the Journal is very well respected, this particular study certainly left a lot to be desired.
Basically, it was what’s called a meta analysis—meaning a review of many other studies. In this case, 20 studies. And in those 20 studies examined, they found no significant association with all-cause mortality, cardiac death, sudden death, heart attack and stroke for those taking omega-3 fats.
Why do we say this? Let’s look at this study a lot more closely, instead of simply reading an abstract or trusting a small snippet from your favorite news anchor.
The conclusion above was based on only 20 studies. While that may seem like a lot …
… there are currently 3,635 citations on these topics, but only 20 out of that 3600+ were included. As we’ve said before, science is like politics—when you take snippets of the whole picture, you can create whatever message you want.
The other piece to this is that 68,00+ subjects from these 20 studies had established and most severe heart disease. Combining different populations makes it hard to draw hard – nearly impossible – to draw conclusions. Second, some subjects were taking multiple cardiovascular drugs, which may interfere with the true outcome of the omega 3 fats themselves.
And another … the doses used, an average of 1.4 g omega-3 daily, is also low when trying to “even” out the balance of omega-6 fats (like the dangerous soybean oil) in the diet, as we’ve discussed in previous posts.
No significant association in these 20 studies does not prove that a significant reduction of cardiovascular disease by omega-3 does not occur.
Many studies show strong significant benefit from an omega-3 intake.
In regards to this particular study—what I call a “selective meta-analysis” — it directly conflicts with the many, many much more well-controlled studies measuring the same outcome.
Continue (or start) to take a high-quality fish oil supplement daily. Aim for 1-2 grams EPA + DHA for general wellness. Reduce your intake of omega-6 fats.
Do us a favor and share with your friends and family so they know to keep taking their omega-3 fats!
Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., RD
Dr. Christopher Mohr, Ph.D. RD is a nutrition spokesperson and consultant to a number of media outlets and corporations including the The Dairy Council, SOYJOY, and Nordic Naturals. He is a consulting Sports Nutritionist for the Cincinnati Bengals and is also the Sports Nutritionist for Under Armour’s TNP Training Council. Through his company Mohr Results, Inc., he works with all types of individuals from soccer moms to collegiate and professional athletes. He often appears on TV as a nutritional guest expert, including an appearance with Chef Emeril Lagasse and another on the Montel Williams Show. He was the nutrition expert for the NY Times Bestseller, “LL Cool J’s Platinum Workout” and worked closely with Fitness Celebrity Denise Austin to create the entire nutrition component of her latest book. He is on the Advisory Board for Men’s Fitness Magazine and has written over 500 articles for consumer publications, such as Men’s Fitness, Weight Watchers, Men’s Health and Fitness, to name a few. Dr. Mohr has Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Nutrition from The Pennsylvania State University and the University of Massachusetts, respectively. He earned his Ph.D. in exercise physiology from the University of Pittsburgh and is a Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. To contact Chris, email him at Chris@MohrResults.com.