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Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

Are the purported benefits of fish oil supplementation for the prevention and treatment of heart disease just a “fish tale“? Thanks to recommendations from organizations such as the American Heart Association that individuals at high risk for heart disease ask their physicians about fish oil supplementation, fish oil has grown into a multibillion dollar industry. We now consume over 100,000 tons of fish oil every year.

But what does the science say? A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at all the best “randomized clinical trials evaluating the effects of omega-3s on lifespan, cardiac death, sudden death, heart attack, and stroke.” The studies told the subjects to either eat more oily fish or to take fish oil capsules. What did the study find? Overall, the researchers found no protective benefit for all-cause mortality, heart disease mortality, sudden cardiac death, heart attack, or stroke.

What about for those who already had a heart attack and are trying to prevent another? Still no benefit. Where did we even get this idea that omega 3s were good for the heart? If we look at some of the older studies, the results seemed promising. For example, there was the famous DART trial back in the 80s involving 2,000 men. Those advised to eat fatty fish had a 29% reduction in mortality. Pretty impressiveóno wonder it got a lot of attention. But people seemed to have forgotten the sequel, the DART-2 trial. The same group of researchers, and an even bigger study (3,000 men). In DART-2 “those advised to eat oily fish and particularly those supplied with fish oil capsules had a higher risk of cardiac death.”

Put all the studies together, and thereís no justification for the use of omega 3s as a structured intervention in everyday clinical practice or for guidelines supporting more dietary omega-3s. So what should doctors say when their patients follow the American Heart Association advice to ask them about fish oil supplements? Given this and other negative meta-analyses, “our job as doctors should be to stop highly marketed fish oil supplementation in all of our patients.”

Iíve previously discussed fish oil supplements in the context of risks versus purported cardiovascular benefits:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you havenít yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations†Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


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5:36PM PDT on Oct 7, 2014

Numerous studies have shown that fish oil provides the best source of Omega 3, Omega 3 from fish are gained from the fish plankton diets. Since both fish diets and snakes diets are different i doubt that the fatty acid contents of these oils are the same. Our doctor recommended fish oil supplement for arthritis and inflammation I guess we just have to wait for more studies on snake oils and see weather there are the essential fatty acid contents on these oils.

1:12PM PDT on Sep 5, 2014

I take 3 omega 3 fish oils each day and one high dose vitamin C. I'm in tip top health and will carry on taking these ad infinitum regardless of the conflicting information abounding on the web.

12:07PM PDT on Aug 31, 2014


5:59PM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

I must agree with Judith S., about our being steered to for profit sites, and posters, have had some issue with Dr. Gregor, in previous postings.
Nonetheless, as far as fish oil as snake oil is concerned, I heard of this new perspective not long ago.
I have a piggy-back notice to put here, in the snake oil field, was looking for a place that might draw people interested in false claims:
If you or a loved one owns a prostate gland, PLEASE READ a book by the fellow who discovered the prostate specific antigen, Richard J. Ablin, Ph.D., called "The Great Prostate Hoax, How Big Medicine Hijacked the PSA Test and Caused a Public Health Disaster."
In a nutshell, the PSA test simply does not screen for cancer, never did. Gleason numbers are cancer related, for any cancers, not the PSA. It's been used by the urology field, to scare people into having biopsies, and then, possible prostatectomies, for cancers that would never kill. these can then lead to awful side effects that the urologists are VERY happy to treat.
But, you read the book.

4:49PM PDT on Aug 22, 2014


1:35AM PDT on Aug 20, 2014

My father takes these capsules daily and he has experienced a greater immunity among other things.

11:00PM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

it's been shown to have benefits as all vitamins do

5:13PM PDT on Aug 17, 2014


4:39PM PDT on Aug 17, 2014


3:35PM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

hmmm, not so sure.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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