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Fish oil supplement claims inaccurate, study finds

New research into the apparent health benefits of fish oil supplements has made a splash, warning consumers the supplement’s multiple health benefits may indeed be exaggerated.

Marketed to emulate the health rewards that come with a diet full of fatty fish and seafood, fish oil supplements have long been a go-to daily health habit for many people. For decades, people have been told taking a daily tablet (or a spoonful for the fearless) of the golden oil is a tactic guaranteed to improve their heart health, among other benefits. 

But the latest research into the benefits of our favourite golden tablets is a blunt reminder that we shouldn’t always believe what’s written on a label. 

And since they’re not the most pleasant pills to swallow, consumers might be more than relieved to have an excuse to ditch their bottles.

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Like most questions regarding our health, different studies surrounding the impact of fish oil supplements on our long-term health have yielded remarkably contradicting results over the years.

However, the latest stream of research seemingly disproves the link between optimised heart health and fish oil supplement consumption. The findings have left experts sceptical that taking the supplements sufficiently prevents heart disease, one of the major reasons consumers swallow the pills.

Why we should think twice

Essentially, supplement companies have long been copying and pasting the list of cardiovascular benefits associated with seafood onto the labels of their products. 

A deep-dive analysis by JAMA Cardiology has found that despite supplement companies’ claims, the overwhelming majority of cardiovascular improvement is in fact solely derived from diet practices, not supplement use.  

If being rebranded as a heart health fad wasn’t damning enough, other studies have even suggested that fish oil tablets might be directly contributing to some heart conditions.  

The European Society of Cardiology released a study just two years ago that found direct evidence of a link between omega-3 fatty acid supplements and an increased link between developing atrial fibrillation in people with existing heart disease.

“Our study suggests that fish oil supplements are associated with a significantly greater risk of atrial fibrillation in patients at elevated cardiovascular risk,” says study author Dr Salvatore Carbone. 

Dr Alyson Kelley-Hedgepeth, a cardiologist, Published in Harvard Medical School’s publishing arm, cardiologist Dr Alyson Kelley-Hedgepeth describes how the inconsistencies in fish oil supplement studies have encouraged her to instead recommend more proven lifestyle practices to her patients.

“Eat a heart-healthy diet, get regular exercise, and pursue other lifestyle changes that have proven benefits for cardiovascular health,” urges Dr Kelley-Hedgepeth. 

But what about the real thing?

While the advantages of the oils and supplements have largely been discredited, experts still stand by the health benefits linked to eating fatty fish two to three times a week, especially types containing omega-3. 

And while the cost of fresh salmon per kilo is enough to make most people shudder at the moment, there are other, more cost-efficient alternatives. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in tinned sardines, mackerel, flaxseeds and chia seeds. 

To put it simply, fish oil tablets and oil should not be considered as a supplement for the real thing, and if you’re still taking the daily tablets, it might be time to find more direct ways to incorporate omega-3 into your diet. 

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