Are fish oil supplements as healthy for us as fish?
Fish oil supplements line the shelves of most grocery stores, Costco, Walmart and pharmacies. They are popular supplements and many of my patients take them. It is common knowledge that fish eaters live longer and have less heart disease and strokes than non-fish eaters. Medical studies support this claim. These facts have led to the assumption that the benefit from fish is the oil in the fish. Most of my patients that take fish oil supplements believe that taking fish oil supplements is as healthy as eating fish. Much of the medical community assumes this as well.
If it is true that taking fish oil is as good for our health as eating fish then it’s a simple solution, take a couple of pills containing fish oil and live longer. That’s a pretty simple way to reduce our risk of disease and live a longer life. So let’s look at the evidence.
A report published in 2004 including 36,913 participants showed: “Pooled trial results did not show a reduction in the risk of total mortality or combined cardiovascular events (strokes, etc.) in those taking additional omega 3 fats”. Omega 3 fats are the fats in fish oil. See link below.
Another report published in 2014 including 794,000 participants showed, a significant discrepancy in reduction of strokes and similar events comparing fish consumption and fish oil supplements. Showing that eating 5 helpings of fish per week was associated with the greatest health improvement. The researchers concluded: “The beneficial effect of fish intake on cerebrovascular risk is likely to be mediated through the interplay of a wide range of nutrients abundant in fish.” See link below.
Bottom line: Fish eaters live longer. It’s not just the oil it’s the fish! Eating fish is associated with less risk of stroke and improved health. Fish supplements are not bad for us but the benefits from whole fish outweigh that of fish oil supplements.
Action Item: Try to include more fresh fish weekly in your diet. Increasing to 5 helpings per week shows most benefit. See my previous blog post on the healthiest fish to eat and what fish to avoid. (Feed Tuna to your Kids? Think again!)