Scientific Nutrition Update 15: Omega 3’s, Something Fishy

Today’s episode is about an example of a well done study in contrast to the one we discussed in episode twelve.  In it we discuss some of the issues with Omega 3’s, and especially why they seem not to be beneficial for cardiovascular disease.  I’ve previously written about some of their other weird effects.


For today’s episode we are going to talk about Omega 3’s which are those fatty acids people buy in “fish oil” pills.  The science has never completely added up to me on those, and there’s a brand new meta-review out that challenges many of the notions that people have surrounding them.


Okay so first things first we just need to define Omega 3’s.  Omega 3’s are a polyunsaturated fatty acid. They’re called omega 3’s because there is a double bond at the 3rd carbon, this is different from Omega 6’s which have their bond at the sixth carbon.  What really matters to us is that these have been indicated for many years as important to a huge variety of different conditions, and the evidence supporting this always seemed somewhat tenuous to me.  A lot of it was based on the fact that populaces that consumed fish seemed to be healthier than those that did not, and omega 3’s were common in fish. Because of this it became a habit of people to draw the causal arrow, and say that these omega 3’s were the reason that people were healthier.  Then after that there came a body out of research, much beloved by the paleo movement that seemed to suggest that the healthiest ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s was about 1:1 and many people had much more omega 6’s than that, which was claimed was contributing to inflammatory diseases. Because of this, Omega 3 supplementation became even more common.  It is also part of the reason that the paleo movement prefers grass-fed beef to conventionally raised beef, they feel that the ratio of omega 6’s: omega 3’s is more beneficial.


I have actually even talked about other problems with omega 3’s on my website before, there was actually a study done on Japanese men that showed lower androgen levels, meaning like testosterone and stuff, among men who had greater intake of omega 3’s.  So I have always been somewhat skeptical of the health claims associated with these supplements.


So back to this brand new, huge study that was just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association called Associations of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplement Use With Cardiovascular Disease Risks.  It is a meta-analysis, meaning it combines the results of several different studies and compares them all in order to get a better idea of the actual effect. In this one, they were specifically looking for any results related to cardiovascular disease from Omega 3’s, and contrary to the study discussed in episode 12 this one was well done.  They included only trials that had at least 500 members and lasted for at least a year.


The conclusion of this massive study, which ended up having 77,917 high risk subjects, was that omega 3 supplementation was not helpful for any form of cardiovascular disease.  No association with coronary heart disease death rate. No association with nonfatal myocardial infarction. No association with vascular events. No association with any coronary heart disease events.  A direct quote from the paper is, “This meta-analysis demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids had no significant association with fatal or nonfatal coronary heart disease or any major vascular events. It provides no support for current recommendations for the use of such supplements in people with a history of coronary heart disease.”


In scientist terms that’s a burn.  They’re burning everyone who had made incredible claims about this compound.  Because frankly it just does not seem to be holding up to the claims people are making about it.  Yet there is still a popular belief that it is some magical compound.


One of the biggest problems with many supplements today is that they will take a study linking consumption of a certain foodstuff to a certain health outcome, often not even great studies, and then they will extract some compound from that food and try to market it to people.  This is why I am so intensely skeptical of any supplements that come out. It is often the interactions between multiple compounds in a whole food that have the desired effect, and extracting one alone will not have the beneficial effects. This is why whenever possible I prefer to get things for my diet from whole food.


If you find any great journal articles on anything you think I might find interesting email them to me at  If you have any other questions send me a voice message on anchor and I’ll try to answer them on this podcast


If you want to learn more about intermittent fasting consider checking out my book The Optimized Guide to Intermittent Fasting and if you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review, it helps more than you know.  Thank you for tuning in, and remember live long, live healthy, but most of all live happy.

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