After reading this article, I looked over my last year's posts and realized that the recent studies posted all found that eating fish showed health benefits (and they did not look at supplements). Once again, a food shows benefits while the supplement is debatable. Current advice: try to eat fish at least twice a week. From the NY Times:
Fish oil is now the third most widely used dietary supplement in the United States, after vitamins and minerals, according to a recent report from the National Institutes of Health. At least 10 percent of Americans take fish oil regularly, most believing that the omega-3 fatty acids in the supplements will protect their cardiovascular health. But there is one big problem: The vast majority of clinical trials involving fish oil have found no evidence that it lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke.
From 2005 to 2012, at least two dozen rigorous studies of fish oil were published in leading medical journals, most of which looked at whether fish oil could prevent cardiovascular events in high-risk populations. These were people who had a history of heart disease or strong risk factors for it, like high cholesterol, hypertension or Type 2 diabetes. All but two of these studies found that compared with a placebo, fish oil showed no benefit.
In theory at least, there are good reasons that fish oil should improve cardiovascular health. Most fish oil supplements are rich in two omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — that can have a blood-thinning effect, much like aspirin, that may reduce the likelihood of clots. Omega-3s can also reduce inflammation, which plays a role in atherosclerosis. And the Food and Drug Administration has approved at least three prescription types of fish oil — Vascepa, Lovaza and a generic form — for the treatment of very high triglycerides, a risk factor for heart disease. But these properties of omega-3 fatty acids have not translated into notable benefits in most large clinical trials.
Like many cardiologists, Dr. Stein encourages his patients to avoid fish oil supplements and focus instead on eating fatty fish at least twice a week, in line with federal guidelines on safe fish intake, because fish contains a variety of healthful nutrients other than just EPA and DHA. “We don’t recommend fish oil unless someone gets absolutely no fish in their diets,” Dr. Stein said.
But some experts say the case for fish oil remains open. Dr. JoAnn Manson, the chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said the large clinical trials of fish oil focused only on people who already had heart disease or were at very high risk. Fish oil has also been promoted for the prevention of a variety of other conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression. Dr. Manson is leading a five-year clinical trial, called the Vital study, of 26,000 people who are more representative of the general population. Set to be completed next year, it will determine whether fish oil and vitamin D, separately or combined, have any effect on the long-term prevention of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other diseases in people who do not have many strong risk factors.
Dr. Manson says that although she recommends eating fatty fish first, she usually does not stop people from taking fish oil, in part because it does not seem to have major side effects in generally healthy people. “But I do think people should realize that the jury is still out,” she said, “and that they may be spending a lot of money on these supplements without getting any benefit.”