fish oil capsules

Deception Through the Amber Lens of a Fish-Oil Capsule

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Wondering what’s considered to be the correct dose of fish oil? Ann Marie Navar, M.D., Ph.D., and an associate professor of cardiology, is skeptical. “Zero milligrams. I advise my patients to save their money,” she said.

fish oil capsules

You’ve likely seen fish-oil supplements sold in stores, pictured in magazines, and advertised on TV. They’ve been promoted for heart health—among many other perceived benefits.

These claims are one reason why fish oil is the country’s third most popular dietary supplement. Americans spend more than $1 billion annually on these greasy over-the-counter capsules.

But producing fish oil involves killing millions of sentient ocean animals every year. In addition, “nontarget” animals such as dolphins, whales, and sea turtles die when they become hooked or entangled in fishing gear.

And there’s another problem: Most of the health claims touted by fish-oil companies simply aren’t true.

Recent studies suggest that we should be looking elsewhere—namely, healthy vegan foods—for ways to enhance our heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids—when they come from fish-oil supplements—may not be as beneficial as once believed, and emptying the ocean of fish isn’t good for the Earth or for animals.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that taking fish-oil supplements did not decrease the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, strokes, or death from heart disease. In fact, the study found no significant difference between those who took these supplements and those who took a placebo.

So Why Do Some People Still Swear by Fish-Oil Supplements?

Fish get omega-3 fatty acids from seaweed/algae. Omega-3s are necessary for maintaining overall cardiovascular health for the following reasons:

  • They reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood.
  • They increase good cholesterol.
  • They reduce the risk of developing an irregular heart rhythm.
  • They slow the buildup of plaque, which hardens and blocks arteries.
  • They help to lower blood pressure.

Omega-3s may also have positive effects on brain health and cognitive function.

Because our bodies don’t naturally create them, we must get omega-3s from other sources. Fish-oil supplements don’t have the same health benefits as vegan foods, which are rich in omega-3s. So why eat dead fish parts when you can get omega-3s straight from the plant-based source?

small bowl of flax seeds

If Fish Oil Can’t Help, at Least It Can’t Hurt, Right? Wrong!

There’s a limit to how many omega-3s the body can absorb at once, and excess amounts could even be harmful.

Some evidence shows that taking fish-oil supplements may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that those taking high doses of fish oil had a slightly higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heart rhythm that can increase the risk of blood clots, strokes, heart failure, and other heart-related complications.

How to Safely Get the Omega-3s That Your Body Needs

Always talk to your doctor about which supplements (if any) may benefit your heart health.

Vegan foods, including seeds, walnuts, and dark-green leafy vegetables, are rich in omega-3s, and getting these essential nutrients from whole-food sources is the way to go. Try the following:

  • Sprinkle flaxseed on your oatmeal, smoothies, or salads.
  • Make chia seed pudding.
  • Add walnuts to baked goods.
  • Nibble on nori (dried seaweed), which is available in stores.
  • Enjoy an ice-cold glass of hemp milk.

peanut butter, chia, pudding

Compelling evidence sinking the myth that fish oil improves cardiovascular health is one more reason to leave fish—who are smart and social animals—in the water, where they belong.

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