Omega 3s Reality Check: Are We Over-Exaggerating Their Benefits?

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Omega-3 fatty acids are praised for keeping bodies healthy from the heart to the brain. But new research is questioning how strong the relationship is between omega-3 consumption and health.

A new study conducted by University of Iowa researchers published Wednesday in the journal Neurology questions the influence of omega-3s on cognitive development.

Earlier this summer, a study published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute caused a stir when it linked omega-3 fatty acids to an elevated risk of prostate cancer. Although many experts called the link “fishy,” it did raise the argument that these fatty acids are more complex than we previously thought.

The Iowa researchers looked at 2,157 women between the ages 65 and 80 and measured the amount of natural omega-3s in their blood. After the measurements, the women were given tests to assess their thinking and memory skills. The tests were repeated over six years.

(MORE: Fish Oil Fail: Omega-3s May Not Protect Brain Health After All)

At the end of the study, there were no notable differences among the cognitive abilities of the women with higher levels of omega-3s versus the women with lower levels. Another earlier review by the Cochrane Library also reported that the cognitive benefits of omega-3s may be overstated: healthy older adults taking omega-3 supplements did no better on thinking and verbal assessments than participants taking placebo.

The new study is additional support for the view that omega-3s may not have all benefits once believed. “Currently there is no proof, no indication, no convincing reason to take omega-3s for treatment or prevention of cognitive problems,” says Dr. Nikos Scarmeas, an associate professor of neurology at Columbia University. Scarmeas is unaffiliated with the study.

Beyond brain health, other research has questioned whether taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements really protects against eye disease like macular degeneration, as eye doctors have sometimes recommended. Even some of the cardiovascular benefits have raised skepticism among heart health professionals.

(MORE: Hold The Salmon: Omega-3 Fatty Acids Linked to Higher Risk of Cancer)

“At one point, omega-3s were looked to as a very hopeful supplement for people at high risk for heart disease,” says Dr. David A. Friedman, chief of the Heart Failure Services at North Shore-LIJ’s Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream, New York. “But it hasn’t shown the risk reduction we want to see. There may been reports of decreases to things like blood clots, but I’m not sure all the data supports this.”

How omega-3s are consumed may also be important to keep in mind. For instance, getting omega-3s naturally from fish may be better than getting them through supplement form. “

(MORE: Omega-3s May Guard Against Brain Decline)

Dr. Friedman says that consuming omega-3s became popular in part after researchers learned that hunter-gatherer societies with diets rich in omega-3s had greater overall health.

“There was a hope that this could be translated over, but simply pulling out the supplement isn’t enough,” says Dr. Friedman. “It’s a controversial topic, the data is becoming less ideal.”

4 comments
nofail
nofail

Omega 3 and 6 reach the brain vessels. But maybe the brain needs a different fat than the heart ... an old separation. As I'm not a physicist I dont know how to trace omega and real fat proportion role in health. But I think we always eat enough real fat for the brain. Still I dont know exactly the role of brain fat while it is more clear about omega for the heart.

DanielChristopherHolt
DanielChristopherHolt

It depends on the type of omega 3s which you didn't show in these studies. A problem too is that people microwave their omega 3 sources such as fish, and the microwave heats at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. Omega 3s become rancid easily under high heats. Most fish oil supplements are overheated. The only fish oil that's any good is cold pressed and fermented codliver oil which is best with high vitamin butter oil, and fermented skate liver oil with the butter oil is good too. You can't depend on alpha linolenic acid for the sole source of omega 3 because it doesn't convert well to EPA and DHA, and EPA and DHA are the most important sources of omega 3. You can also have too much omega 3 and you can have too much alpha linolenic acid, which is why you want your omega 3 intake to be 1.5% of your calorie intake, and you want your omega 6 to be 2.5% of your calorie intake. For vegans the best source of omega 3 is a low temperature heated EPA and DHA combination from an algae source. I believe EPA and DHA for the most part originate from certain types of algae, and fish consume those algaes which is why they're high in EPA and DHA. For this reason farmed fish isn't that good of a source of EPA and DHA, because they don't supply these algaes into their water. Farm salmon is dyed so it's color is misleading because it makes people think it has astaxanthin, EPA, and DHA. Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (pink and red, King Salmon too) is very high in astaxanthin, EPA, and DHA. They can also have vitamin D in them but that could be seasonal and I don't know if they're D2 or D3, or if D2 even from fish absorbs that well which sunlight and fluorescent lights can destroy the fat soluble vitamin content. They get their astaxanthin from a type of algae and then store it in their bodies just like Flamingos that are pink, and without astaxanthin flamingos are white. You can just supplement with astaxanthin from the algae. Fermented Codliver Oil and Fermented Skateliver Oil are well price sources of vitamin A, vitamin D3, quinones, EPA, and DHA. Fermented Skateliver Oil may have joint building properties I've heard of. Quinones are a huge benefit to those fermented sources (which are also in high vitamin butter oil). Quinones are different types of fat soluble vitamins considered hormones so they can healthfully raise natural testosterone in the body. Co-Q10 and the menaquinones such as MK 4, 7, 8, and 9 (MK stands for menaquinone) are examples of some quinones. The quinones and their health benefits aren't completely understand so I can't say what quinones have what benefit, which ones are the main benefit, and so I can't say if there's equal nutritional sources to fermented codliver oil/skate liver oil/high vitamin butter oil. Otherwise I would say you can supplement with vitamin D3, 85,000IU daily of beta-carotene (which converts to 15% vitamin A in the body, but for some people with conversion issues it only converts 1.5% to vitamin A), and vitamin K2 MK7. I can't say if those fermented sources are higher in those nutrients and if so they're actually cheaper because they have everything in it. I also question the fermented sources absorption of vitamin D because they're high in mostly vitamin D2 from the research I looked at, but they could have more vitamin D3 in it. But I don't know if the vitamin D2 absorbs well in the fermented sources or not, because studies on vitamin D2 extracted from mushrooms had a very terrible absorption rate. This is important to know because you want to know if the fermented sources are a good source of vitamin D or if you should supplement with vitamin D3, but you can get vitamin D toxicity in the body if you have too much so you'd want to know before supplementing with higher amounts of the fermented sources and/or with additional cheap vitamin D3 supplementation, such as if you want to get more EPA and DHA in through the fermented sources I listed will having higher amounts above a 1/2 teaspoon a day cause too high of levels of vitamin D in the blood or does it store vitamin D inefficiently because it mostly stores vitamin D2 from the fermented source. I've heard mixed results that the fermented sources increase vitamin D in the body, and I'm highly skeptical but I also cannot take the risk of overdosing on vitamin D so I wouldn't recommend taking more additional D3. But I've read it's save to have a half teaspoon of fermented codliver oil or fermented skate liver oil at 2/3rds of either one with 1/3rd of high vitamin butter oil with some additional vitamin D3. You can also get 25 (OH)D tests for vitamin D3 in the blood at Lab Corps who are supposed to be the most accurate labs you can go to. It's healthy to have 35 (OH)D in the blood to 50 (OH)D in the blood. It's controversial to go up to 85 (OH)D in the blood except for health problems. If you go over 85 it can be harmful for the body with toxicity but that might be an exception with certain health problems. When people get lots of sun such as lifeguards their vitamin D levels taper off to 85 in the blood. This is because the sun's two UV rays have one that gives you vitamin D3, and the other ray blocks off absorption of vitamin D3 once you get up to 85 in the blood. With sunscreens while they block off both rays they still let a small percentage of rays get in the body so that the rays can still maintain these healthy levels. White people absorb vitamin D3 from the sun a lot better, while African's skin pigment it takes a lot more exposure to get the same levels of vitamin D3 probably due to the type of melanin in African's skin which I believe Africans are more prone to skin cancer because of this, and because their dark skin attracts more sun rays which is why they are said to avoid swimming. Africans get sick the most and the most health problems because they're known to have the lowest vitamin D3 levels because of their skin's poor absorption, which also gives their babies health problems. I can't speak for the absorption of other ethnicities with different types of skin pigments including mixed.

nofail
nofail

Panacea hype : Omega 3 can cure cancer ! Are we exagerating their effect ? Omega 3 may trigger prostate cancer ! etc ...

Omega 3 and 6 are healthier than saturated fat, it is still food not medication.

nofail
nofail

Sorry for being unscientific, my near rubbish about yin and yang fat reminds me about a better dichotomy in a documentary : chemical medication, alopathy, is for acute desease, and traditional medecine, food supplements, is for chronic ache. In the documentary an oncologist wanted his patient to continue chimiotherapy (Hipocrat) so he followed her in India and she was feeling very well there, nevertheless she accepted to take her chimio and the oncologist asked the indian Drs to give him samples so he can isolate their active principles. The indian drs accepeted but warned that it was an holistic approach. What I understand about this explaination is maybe the western hospital was not fengshui (chinese term) so the subtle benefits of the food supplements rapidly desappear OR the charismatic aura of the drs was an important part of the patient well being.