Fish Oil – Bad or Good?

Precision Nutrition » Fish oil and omega-3s fats: How to be safer with your supplements..

I will admit, I’ve been on the fence, but the above linked article unpacks things nicely, and has the added benefit of explaining, very succinctly, how the media distorts the importance of controversial studies without bothering to vet the science that lies behind them.

Journalists used to understand the phrase “consider the source.” They don’t so much anymore. The study that’s caused all the hubbub that’s led talking heads all over North America to basically tell people to toss their fish oil capsules was published in The Journal of Lipids. Here’s what Precision Nutrition had to say about this esteemed publication:

For you science nerds out there, the impact factor of this journal — if you can believe it — is zero. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, impact factors indicate how important a journal is to the scientific community).

For the sake of comparison, blogs have a scientific impact factor of zero. So does my daughter’s coloring book. The highly respected New England Journal of Medicine, on the other hand, has an impact factor of around 35.

This is something to keep in mind next time you’re doing research. The scientific credibility of a journal, determined by members of the scientific community, matters.

PN is even harsher with the author of the study:

In investigating the author, I learned that, years ago, he made unsubstantiated claims about his academic credentials. There were serious legal ramifications. Fines were paid. Reputations ruined.
Not good.

This is basic background research that any journalist should do prior to running with a story, but they never do it. Why? Because then they’d have fewer sensational and controversial “science” and “medicine” stories to put into their leads on the nightly news and 24-hour cable news shows. They might actually have to report on *gasp* the news.

If you’re concerned about whether or not you should be taking fish oil supplements, read the linked article from Precision Nutrition (there’s even am embedded link to an audio version of the article if you’d rather just listen). Personally, I think it’s a must.

2 Responses to “Fish Oil – Bad or Good?

  • I waffle on this one – mostly because authorities seem to waffle. I have generally come to limit my supplements to those I know to work for me (with a clear purpose, such as Lysine), and the newer information on fish oil (or Omega-3 supplements generally) really haven’t yet settled down, it seems. I used to listen to The People’s Pharmacy pretty regularly (not religiously, mind you, nor with any assumption they were a final answer; I always waited to hear how solid their scientific explanation was).

    They’ve flip-flopped on fish oil, and recently acknowledged that the science (like many Major Discoveries!) has vacillated, and seemingly clear benefits in one direction may be outweighed by potential risks in another. For example:

    For your brain, presently positive:
    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2014/01/23/is-your-brain-better-with-fish-oil-and-vitamin-e-on-board/
    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2014/02/10/fish-oil-was-helpful-for-fighting-brain-fog/

    For your heart, less clear, in retrospect:
    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2013/04/15/whats-the-story-on-fish-oil/

    And for potentially delightful risks:
    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2013/07/11/fish-oil-linked-to-prostate-cancer/

    An important proviso, for me, is that, frankly, I don’t like fish. I will eat it if it’s served to me without a choice (generally, but I make exceptions when there are eyes looking back at me, etc.). I will eat tuna from a can (which most “fish lovers” despise) in tuna salad, but I’m told there are all sorts of mercury risks with tuna.

    Sometimes, you just have to take a stand and run with it…

    • So, the basic reason PN recommends fish oil supplementation has to do with the natural of cellular biology, and the fact that the permeable membranes of our cells are made from lipids. If your diet is rich in good quality fats – like those found in oily deep sea fish – you will have supple cells that let react properly with other nutrients in your blood stream. If, however, your diet is high in saturated fats then your will have cell walls that tend not to do their jobs particularly well.

      The general assumption the PN makes is that most North Americans have diets that are generally deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids and overly rich in Omega-6 fatty acids, so supplementation with fish oils is one way to counteract that imbalance and improve the permeability of our cells to favor the things we need for optimal cellular functioning.

      In general I think people are too eager to look at supplements through the veil of what I call Dr. Ozification – as in, looking for some supplement that has magical properties that will make them healthier without having to do much of anything else, and in that respect I think fish oil tends to get a lot of credit for things it simply doesn’t do.

      Nutritional supplements are just that – things to supplement your nutrition and correct deficiencies, and in so doing allow your body to function better. As a culture we’ve gone a bit off the rails with thinking of such things as some kind of medical treatment, and that’s wrong-headed.

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