Fish Oil Supplements Claim to Boost Heart Health — But Researchers Say the Benefits Are Overstated

Experts warn that fish oil supplement labels are misleading and should not be relied on as a preventive heart health measure

Fish oil supplements — which million of people consume to promote heart health — may have little benefit, according to a new study published in JAMA Cardiology.

“The majority of fish oil supplement labels make health claims…that imply a health benefit across a variety of organ systems despite a lack of trial data showing efficacy,” reported the authors of the study, which examined 2,819 supplements on the market.

Eating actual fish boosts heart health because it contains Omega-3 fatty acids — specifically, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — which the body needs for muscle activity and cell growth, the Mayo Clinic says.

That’s what may have led to the belief that the supplements could be beneficial.

<p>Getty Images</p> Grilled salmon contains Omega-3 fatty acids.

Getty Images

Grilled salmon contains Omega-3 fatty acids.

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“The science in this area has evolved considerably — epidemiologists first found that people who eat more fish and who have higher levels of EPA and DHA in their blood have less heart disease," the study’s author, Ann Marie Navar, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Cardiology at UTSMC, told Health

"This led people to think there could be a benefit to fish oil."

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The Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and trout, and shellfish, such as mussels, oysters and crabs, according to the National Institute of Health.

Some oils, such as canola and soy, contain another omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the National Institute of Health added.

And while the NIH says that fish oil may help rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, it concludes, “the health benefits of omega-3 dietary supplements are unclear.”

The lack of clear benefits wasn’t the only thing Navar’s study found; They also discovered that the amount of Omega-3 acids in fish oil supplements varied widely, with some having more than three times the dose of EHA and DHA than others.

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“I advise my patients to save their money,” Navar told Health about the supplements, which can retail for more than $20 for a month-long supply.

“Fish oil nutritional supplements do not prevent heart attacks or strokes in the general population."

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