Is something fishy with fish oil supplements? | columns


Q: I am so confused about omega-3 fatty acids. There is now a study out there that says it can be risky to take. Should I stop taking my supplements? – Larry T., Gainesville, Fla.

A: We’re glad you asked! The study you are referring to was a new analysis published in the European Heart Journal Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy. Five randomized controlled trials examining the effects of omega-3 supplementation on cardiovascular outcomes were investigated.

Participants in these studies had high levels of triglycerides, were at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, or were diagnosed with this diagnosis. A total of 50,000 participants received 0.84 g to 4.0 g fish oil (a source of omega-3 fatty acids) or a placebo for up to 7.4 years.

The Conclusion: Those who took a fish oil supplement increased their risk of developing A-fib (arrhythmia / irregular heartbeat) by about 37%.

The researchers said it is largely unknown why omega-3 fatty acids can increase the risk of A-fib. And they rightly stated that omega-3s “have previously been shown to stabilize the heart membrane, resulting in protective effects against arrhythmias, including ventricular arrhythmias.”

Our Thoughts: There were different doses and types of fish oil in these studies, and people with high triglyceride levels weren’t all the same in terms of demographics or health – although the review took this into account. There are data from randomized controlled data showing that omega-3 fatty acids reduce age-related cognitive decline and reduce the risk of heart attacks in patients with high triglycerides. So we believe we have a statistical aberration here (numbers don’t always tell the truth), and we need more research to know if the A-fib risk is enough to keep people with elevated triglycerides or cardiovascular disease to get you to avoid omega -3 supplements.

What We Know: Getting omega-3 fatty acids from food (your body needs them but can’t make them) is important to protect all organs from inflammation and chronic disease. We recommend three servings of 3 to 6 ounces of salmon, sea trout, herring, anchovy, or sardines per week. And talk to your doctor about taking or continuing to take the supplement.

Q: What weight loss supplements do you recommend? I need help! – Lanine G., Lincoln, Neb.

A: Losing excess weight is difficult and you are not the only one looking for a shortcut. Around 15% of Americans (over 100 million) trying to lose weight have used a weight loss supplement. But do they help you lose pounds and keep them off? A recent, comprehensive review looked at 121 randomized, placebo-controlled studies of the effectiveness of over-the-counter diet supplements for weight loss and found them to be a waste of money.

The study, presented at this year’s European Obesity Congress, examined data from nearly 10,000 adults who took herbal supplements made from green tea. Garcinia Cambogia and Mangosteen (tropical fruits); white kidney bean; Ephedra (a stimulant that increases metabolism); African Mango; Yerba Mate (herbal tea made from the leaves and branches of the Ilex paraguariensis plant); Field grape (often used in traditional Indian medicine); Licorice root; and East Indian milk thistle (used in Ayurvedic medicine). Only white kidney beans showed a statistical but no clinical weight loss benefit compared to placebo.

The weight loss supplements evaluated were chitosan (a fat blocker made from shellfish); Glucomannan (a soluble fiber found in the roots of elephant yam); Fructans (a carbohydrate made up of fructose chains) and conjugated linoleic acid (which claims to change body composition by reducing fat content). All but fructans result in a small increase in weight loss compared to placebo – but it wasn’t enough to improve your health.

What Helps: good support systems – consider joining a group like OA or WW; cognitive behavioral therapy; Work with a nutritionist and an exercise physiologist; Take it slow – lose a pound a week; and remember that when it comes to improving health, it takes a lifelong commitment to achieve life-extending results. “What to eat and when” can be your guide.

Mehmet Oz, MD, is the host of the “Dr. Oz Show, ”and Mike Roizen, MD, is the chief wellness officer emeritus at the Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at


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