Monday, June 4, 2007

Benefits of Omega 3 supplements?

Yesterday a woman from a company that sells Omega 3 fatty acid (see picture) capsules called me up and gave me a nice cheap offer that I would later accept. I have been taking Omega 3 supplement in different periods in my life and think I have experienced some sight improvement in my overall health. Whether this experience is due to the Omega 3 fatty acids, the placebo effect or just me fooling myself into believing that they do something to me, I don't know and I would certainly not make any strong claims about their efficacy based on what I have felt. I have reasoned that they are probably not harmful, I don't eat a lot of fish, and well they might be good for you, so I will try it.

Just for the fun of it I asked the woman how omega3 could help me. I was, I must admit, astonished by the list she provided me with. Here are some of her suggestions: "It stabilizes mood", "It makes you sleep better", "I reduces cholesterol", "I reduces the risk of dying from heart problems", "it brings oxygen to your muscles", "It improves the effect of exercise", "it help you concentrate" and she went on and on and on… To see whether the company also knew something about the mechanisms that give rise to these astounding changes I asked the woman how Omega 3 helps give oxygen to muscles, because I had never heard that claim before. Her answer was not very satisfactory, she said "well you know, the Omega3 goes to the muscles, and then more oxygen goes there as well", hmmm I kind of asked why but never mind that…

Now I do not claim to be an Omega 3 expert, but I am almost a hundred percent sure that the woman's claims were at least a little bit inflated as well as biased. Take her claim that Omega 3 stabilize mood. A quick search for the words Omega 3 and mood on PubMed gave me a couple of articles, and sure enough it seems that people with Omega 3 deficiency have a higher incidence of mood disorders. But wait, maybe everyone does not have a deficiency!? I was told that Omega 3 is good for mood, but this appears to hold only if I have too little of it. Not what I was told! Furthermore, the sources I have reviewed they invariably say that definite conclusions about the efficacy of Omega 3 are premature (which is of course not the same as saying that it doen't have an effect). The claim that there are no bad side effects associated with Omega 3 supplements is also false. According to Wikipedia Omega 3 can, increase bleeding, increase the probability of stroke (though I have also seen sources claiming the opposite), give rise to more oxidative agents which makes you old and causes cancer, and suppress immune function. I know Wikipedia is not the most reliable source so please correct me if I am wrong. When I explicitly asked the woman whether there were any side effects I got a simple no, then a nervous laughter, and then she said "sound like it is too good to be true right". Indeed it does I thought to myself.

I am not suggesting that people should not use Omega 3 supplements. Omega 3 has many important functions in the body and we are only able to get it via the diet (it is an essential fatty acid). What makes me react though is the enormous exaggeration of benefits that is so common when it comes to dietary supplements. Go into any "Hälsokost" store and you will see various natural products which when explained to you sound no less than miraculous. If everything they said was true I will bet you that these products would be used at hospitals as well. Or as one skeptical doctor put it, there is no doctor who would not give his or her right arm or first borne son for the type of miracles that some supplements offers according to those who sell them. Some readers will probably object here and say that it is in the interest of hospitals not to cure people (because you don't get money from people who are healthy), but I think this argument falls when you take into account the fact that hospitals has gotten better and better over time. Furthermore, people will pay for health care that actually help them, so if a hospital would go to far, say stop using antibiotics, then people would stop going to that hospital (except perhaps the Amish).

So go on, eat Omega 3, it might do you good. But remain skeptical about the claims made concerning its efficacy.


Gabrielle said...

Fish oil Supplements are highly beneficial, some side effects do occur.
Refined and concentrated omega 3 fatty acid products contains no contaminants.
I have got it from neurovi's website.

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you for the comment Gabrielle,

Here is the list provided by Neurovi where they state what omega 3 is good for.

Improved IQ and Brain Development
Improved Eye Health
Improved Skin Health
Less Risk of Alzheimer's
Less Risk of Arthritis
Less Risk of Depression
Improved Cholesterol Levels
Less Risk of Heart Disease

I believe, and I would be willing to bet that these claims do not have a solid basis in research. I very much doubt that they have conducted double blind studies on all of the above, and if they haven't then the conclusion are indeed premature.

JoeFirstknight said...

For the eyes and the brain, fish rich in omega 3 may contribute to the health of the brain and retina. Fish oil also good to reduce the risk of heart desease and stroke.

Juice Plus Vitamins said...

Omega 3 is an excellent supplements

janey10021 said...

Flax seeds and chia seeds are also great sources for Omega 3. The benefit of flax seed and the benefit of chia seeds are many. Both flax seed and chia seeds contain fiber, Omega-3 and lignans. This helps lower cholesterol and can also benefit people at risk for diabetes by regulating blood sugar by slowing down the body's absorption of sugar. Flax seed and chia seeds are also both great sources for antioxidants.