Are omega-3's really good for your heart?
Here we go again. Just last week I explained why meta-analysis studies are so often full of holes. (If you missed it, I debunked the study
that found that organics are no better than conventional foods. Now it's another meta-analysis that has the mainstream media all atwitter.
This time, it's omega-3 fatty acids that are under attack. The research testing the effects of omega-3 for the heart, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association
, found that omega-3's aren't doing a thing to help your heart.
It wasn't long after the press release hit that we started seeing a flurry of headlines like U.S News & World Report's
"Fish Oil and Omega-3's Don't Prevent Heart Attacks" and Reuters' "For heart health, omega-3 pills are not the answer."
But don't go tossing out your fish oil pills or taking fish off your shopping list just yet. It turns out the holes in this study are so big you could ride a whale through them.
The meta-analysis trap
As I explained last week, a meta-analysis deals with averages and overall trends. That means that some of the studies picked
by the researchers (yes, PICKED...more on that gaping hole in a moment) found that omega-3's ARE good for your heart, other's did not. But when rolled up together there isn't a "statistically significant
association" between the omega-3's and heart health.
Now does this invalidate all those studies that DID find an association? Of course not! But there wasn't a single mention of those positive studies in all the mainstream reporting on this new "finding." Because, let's be honest, if it's not in the press release they're parroting, it's not likely to be in the story, either.
Which brings me to yet another problem I have with the meta-analysis as a form of research: they are incomplete, which can sometimes (okay, often
) make their conclusions shaky at best.
analysis, for example. By no means did it contain ALL of the studies on omega-3 for the heart. No, instead the researchers cherry-picked just twenty studies to include in their review.
Naturally, when you lump together a bunch of different studies all using different standards and measurements you're going to end up with more questions than answers. For example, how much omega-3 did participants take? In what form was the omega-3? What about the subjects' overall diets? And what was their overall health condition?
And, of course, we also have no idea how many of those who were taking fish oil were also
taking vitamin E. Based on my experience I'll go out on a limb here and say probably not very many. But as a reader of Guide to Good Health
you know that taking a mixed tocopherol vitamin E is important to keep the fish oil from breaking down (oxidizing) too quickly in the body.
I could go on and on. But the point is we're talking about a LOT of variables here.
Say "yes" to omega-3's for your heart
So are you starting to see why this "conclusive conclusion" on omega-3 for heart health just doesn't hold a whole heck of a lot of water?
The fact is there's plenty of research pointing to a link between heart health and omega-3 fatty acids. For example, only two days before this
study was released, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
published another study linking omega-3's with a lower risk of heart failure.
Or there's the article published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation
that found "The addition of omega-3 fatty acids to the diet lowers triglyceride levels, an effect that is pronounced in those with marked hypertriglyceridemia," meaning omega-3's can help naturally reduce your blood fats.
And then there was the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association
in 2002. It showed that women who eat more fish, and have a higher intake of omega-3s, have a lower risk of coronary heart disease and death from CHD.
In other words, using omega-3s for heart health is not even an alternative
health approach anymore...it went "mainstream" LONG ago.
In fact, according to the American Heart Association (and, let's face it, you can't get
much more mainstream than that) there's evidence that omega-3 fatty acids DO have beneficial effects on people with heart disease as well as
Heck, even the folks over at the National Institutes of Health are fans of fish oil. According to NIH, "The scientific evidence suggests that fish oil really does lower high triglycerides, and it also seems to help prevent heart disease and stroke when taken in the recommended amounts."
Oh, and I should mention that omega-3's have also
been linked with everything from fighting inflammation
, to battling depression
, to slashing breast cancer
risk. So there are lots of good reasons to be taking them besides
Remember...ignore the hype and look past the headlines when it comes to anything related to your health. Dig just a little deeper. It's surprising what you'll find.