A recent review of 20 studies regarding the effectiveness of fish oil suggests that there is no evidence eating extra helpings of certain fish or taking fish oil supplements reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack or death.
The review, which was published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) stated: "omega-3 PUFA supplementation was not associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiac death, sudden death, myocardial infarction, or stroke based on relative and absolute measures of association."
A separate report released in June by Cochrane Collaboration, an independent, not-for-profit organization that promotes evidence-based decision-making, concluded that fish oil pills fail to prevent or treat cognitive decline and a 2011 meta-analysis by Yale University researchers debunked the idea that omega-3s alleviate depression according to Nature.com.
However, the Fisher Center for Alzheimer Research Foundation says scientists at Rhode Island Hospital's Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center have found that fish oil supplements may affect parts of the brain critical for memory and thinking skills. The study, part of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a large ongoing study at multiple medical centers across the U.S., looked at 819 participants, 117 of which were taking fish oil supplements. The study showed that those participants who were taking fish oil and where healthy when the study began, scored better on tests measuring thinking and memory skills then those who were not taking the supplements. The research also found that fish oils seemed to provide benefits for those who did not carry a gene called APOE-E4, which increases the risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Dr. Lori Daiello, lead researcher of the study stated the findings should "motivate further study of the possible effects of long-term fish oil supplementation on important markers of cognitive decline and the potential influence of genetics on these outcomes."
A Mayo Clinic report states: "There is supportive evidence from multiple studies that suggests the intake of recommended amounts of DHA and EPA in the form of dietary fish or fish oil supplements lowers triglycerides; reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease; slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques ("hardening of the arteries"), and lowers blood pressure slightly."ABC News reported earlier this month that several clinical trials have shown that fish oil seems to lower risk of heart attack, sudden death, and even stroke. The same report also said a Journal of the American Medical Association study found no significant risk reduction in those getting increased omega-3 in their diet or through supplements.
The varying study results and conflicting information leave those looking for ways to address various health issues in a quandary. Should people stick with traditional pharmaceutical medications to try address issues like high blood pressure and cholesterol, or try alternative treatments? In February the FDA announced new warning labels for statin drugs, medications used to help lower cholesterol. The new labels warn patients of serious side effects that include serious risk of liver damage, memory loss and confusion, type 2 diabetes and a risk of muscle weakness. WebMD lists side effects of blood pressure medications such calcium channel blockers and beta-blockers to include asthma symptoms, weakness, depression, impotence, insomnia, dizziness and increased heart rate.
I spoke with the owner of a local health food store about her experience with customers who have chosen alternative methods to address these issues. She stated: "First of all it is important for all of us to realize that no one thing works for everyone. That goes for both prescription medications and holistic treatments. We have customers who take medications high blood pressure and or high cholesterol. Many of them say they were prescribed multiple medications before finding one that worked for them. We also have customers who have tried fish oils who did not see results. Some tried lecithin or red yeast rice for issues with cholesterol and found it worked for them. Customers that found fish oil did not help their high blood pressure have tried combinations that include Vitamin E, cayenne and hawthorn who tell us it works wonderful. For many, fish oil works, for others it doesn't. It is all about seeing what works best for the individual because we are different and the reasons for the issues are different."