How to go, ‘Oh dear.’

Some heartening news, if I may be forgiven the pun*.The omega-3 fish oil supplements that people bang down their necks in the belief that this will somehow improve their ‘cardiovascular health’ (a suitably sketchy marketing promise), don’t work. If you take them, you’ve fallen for the hype.

We know this because of a whopping great analysis by the Cochrane Library. These people know what they’re doing. They were among the first to debunk the whole ‘cod liver oil/glucosamine help your arthritis’ myth. Then they went after the ‘omega-3 helps relieve depressive symptoms’, and lo! No dice at all.

They then turned their attention and their crosshairs on another sector of the huge fish oil supplement market. I’m not sure what it’s worth in the UK, but gullible souls spend about £430 million a year on supplements, so it’s probably a good chunk of money.

They really didn’t mess about here, either. They reviewed 79 proper grownup randomised trials involving 112,000 people. That’s what you call doing your homework, isn’t it? Here’s the finding. Death rates over the studied periods** in those taking omega-3 supplements averaged 8.8%. Now of course that’s meaningless unless we have something to compare with, but the honest burghers at the Cochrane had this covered, not unexpectedly. Death rates in those not taking supplement were 9%. That’s what we scientists call insignificant.

It gets better, though. There was no significant difference in rates of heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes between the two groups. So much for ‘cardiovascular health’, eh? You may as well take snake oil. It will do you as much good.

The research team, led by the admirably sensible Lee Hooper, who happens to be from my alma mater of the University of East Anglia, were very careful to point out these findings only apply to supplements, since they did not assess the effects of eating oily fish.

I can think of any number of reasons why eating fish and seafood might be really good for you. Not least of these is the number of minerals and micronutrients you find in them. Also if you’re scoffing fish, you’ll probably be eating vegetables as well, and cutting down on your saturated fat intake too.

Talking of scoffing, enter the Health and Food Supplements Information Service. You may think they have an axe to grind, and they have. ‘For those who can’t or won’t eat mackerel, salmon, or herring, a daily fish oil supplement is a useful way of meeting recommendations.

They would say that, wouldn’t they?

*I somehow doubt it with you lot.

**Lifetime death rates are always 100% despite what the Daily Mail will tell you.

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