Fish oil and snake oil

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57 Responses to “Fish oil and snake oil”

  1. Rick. says:

    The fish burps from these things are atrocious.

    • Cowicide says:

      I’ve never had one with enteric coated stuff. Never want one either, sounds nasty as hell. Get the enteric coated stuff.

  2. elagie says:

    Studies being as contradictory as they typically are, I can only say that, from my experience, fish oil appears to benefit some people, specifically my daughter.

    She was in Birth to 3 therapy because I was told she might never talk (she couldn’t even make specific consonant sounds on request, even with a bribe she really, really wanted (the use of the therapist’s pen.)) They suggested I teach her sign language instead.

    I looked up Apraxia (what they said she might have had) and saw the fish oil results. I started her on Nordic Naturals and literally within a week she was not only talking but talking in full sentences (she was three years old at the time.)

    Coincidence? Maybe. But I still give it to her. (Hey, it doesn’t hurt and they do say fish is brain food, and I can’t get her to eat fish.)

    She’s been considered gifted since Kindergarten and has tested at exceptional levels on the Connecticut Mastery test every year so far.

    I’m not saying fish oil made her smart, but I do believe it fixed or helped grow whatever brain connections that made it possible for her to talk.

  3. Zadaz says:

    I also find it a bit ironic that a “Bad science” article is just as misleading as the science it critiques.

    The studies it references only cover omega-3 and children’s attention, but the implication from the headline is that fish oil is worthless in everyone for everything.

    But guess what? Fish oil (and omega-3) has very well documented cardiovascular and neurological health benefits. It’s just apparently crap at treating ADHD. Well, big deal. It’s also a lousy desert topping and floor wax.

    (Though because the FDA refuses to regulate it you can get all sorts of crap and woowoo involved in its manufacture and sale. Ingester be ware.)

    • RevelryByNight says:

      “It’s also a lousy desert topping and floor wax.”

      I refute your anecdotal claim! I, for one, love my rocky road with a smattering of cod.

  4. Cicada says:

    Wouldn’t want to feed the kids actual fish or anything…

    • Cowicide says:

      Wouldn’t want to feed the kids actual fish or anything…

      Yummy… expensive mercury & dioxin laced meals… just what the doctor ordered.

      ————————————

      By way, I found that you have to take enteric coated fish oil or not at all if you want to see any eventual effects.

  5. Zanduar says:

    I don’t know about other health benefits but I’ve been taking fish oil for over five years and it has helped decrease my cholesterol.

  6. lewis stoole says:

    meet the past 20+ years of amarin (amrn) in all its past incarnations as it studies and tests pharmaceutical grade fish oil that never quite seems to meet fda approval for any of whatever they test it for in all 3 phases of whatever they are testing, even depression. don’t let the pps fool you, it was reverse split.
    not that this article goldacre debunks is related, but it sure seems familiar.

  7. Nick Galante says:

    I have had great results with omega 3. Clear skin, lower cholesterol and lowered inflamation (C-reactive protein).

    The problem with fish oil is in order to be effective you have to take a lot causing fish burps. The purity and sustainability of wild caught fish is also questionable.
    I get my omega 3 from New Zealand green lipped mussels. http://mymoxxor.com/?ID=waiohai it is highly concentrated and pure.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I gave it to my wife when pregnant, and now give two one gram capsules per day of it to my children. They like them so much, they always request more. They chew them like candy. It’s clear to me they crave it as a nutrient. Having it from the womb, they now love foods like pickled herring, grilled sardines and pickled octopus, which I also find amazing.

    And they do seem smart. My oldest started reading in Spanish one month before becoming 4 (we taught her actively). Then she taught herself to read in Dutch and English, before she was five (we live in the Netherlands). Fish oil probably helps, there are too many reports on the internet about it boosting IQ of children. But they have to take it from the womb, when brains are being built.

  9. friendpuppy says:

    The benefits of fish oil (the kind with 0mega-3) were decuced from the reduced amount of bipolar sufferers in the population of countries where large quantities of fish are consumed.

    Being a “friend” of a bipolar sufferer, I can testify that 1 gram of omega-3 daily feels “to him” exactly like taking an additional 150mg daily of lithium carbonate.

    As far as cognitive benefits from omega-3s I haven’t seen anything conclusive. If a bipolar person gets mood benefit from them then that person may also have better concentration and be in general, “calmer.” But testing on children may not have much effect as bipolar develops gradually over the years.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s a ‘benefit’ because it fills a deficiency. I have psoriasis and for two years suffered the same sore regardless of the steroids prescribed or methods used.

      An omega-3 tablet once a day was added, and 3 weeks later that sore is gone. It isn’t that omega-3 ADDED anything, it just completed something.

      Like your bi-polar friend, the omega-3 helps to complete whatever it is that is missing.

      So maybe the expectations here are incorrect. If you are not deficient in something, taking more of that something doesn’t make you any better.

    • proletariat says:

      Being a “friend” of a bipolar sufferer, I can testify that 1 gram of omega-3 daily feels “to him” exactly like taking an additional 150mg daily of lithium carbonate.

      Sounds like you and I have “friends” in common. Thinly veiled self-references aside, in addition to the mood stabilizer lamotrigine (Lamictal), I take a daily Omega-3 pill for the same reason. While I believe that it is important to note that Omega-3 supplementation should not be viewed as an alternative to more well established pharmacological treatments, it seems that there is a wide body of evidence supporting its benefits in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

    • Anonymous says:

      This article doesn’t mention anything about the cardiovascular benefits of fish oil. Here’s what the mayo clinic has to say about it. Think I’ll go with what they say rather than some journo with an axe to grind.

      http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fish-oil/NS_patient-fishoil

  10. Cowicide says:

    sources… sources…. sources

  11. Ugly Canuck says:

    Omega-3 fatty acid make brain tastier for when zombies will in future eat.

    Science, good, nom nom nom…and I see colours! Actual colours! The colours of truth:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18543124

    My guess is that the fine details of this fat’s molecular structure,and the way that structure interacts with the human bio-physiology, make omega-3 (and 6,and 9) fats relatively “better” for us, just as the fine structure of “trans” fats makes it poison unto us (at least, in the longer term).

    Me, I’m for anything which improves the efficiency of our enormous brains.

  12. Dewi Morgan says:

    Enteric coatings for omega-3s sounded to me just like expensive (read: profitable!) woo. So I checked, and yup.

    http://ezinearticles.com/?Do-You-Need-Enteric-Coated-Fish-Oil?&id=2213396 has more details (I googled “enteric coated fish oil”, it’s the first hit), but to summarise:

    You only need an enteric coating on nutrients that are negatively affected by stomach acid, and need to be released into the upper intestine instead (resveratrol, curcumin, etc). Omega-3 fatty acids, which are the nutrients found in fish oils, are not changed by stomach acid, and are absorbed just as readily if they’re released in the stomach.

    So, using these with the apparently-zero-benefit omega-3s is a bit like using woo on woo. A scam squared.

    • Cowicide says:

      Hi Dewi,

      First, go check this out.

      Second, the enteric fish oil capsules I’m talking about don’t dissolve until exposed to an alkaline pH. The theory is that this enhances delivery & absorption in the small intestines by protecting long-chain fatty acids from hydrolysis in gastric acidity. Seems to work for me and many others, but if you can prove it’s all just a placebo effect, it would be greatly appreciated (I’m not kidding, BTW).

      You should also look into how foods deliver nutrients into your body through catalystic containers (as I call them). You can eat straight up potassium supplements all day long and piss it out, but eat a banana and you’ve got yourself a complex, badass, potassium delivery system. This applies to many things (including fish) and this ties into the need for an enteric coating on the fish oil.

      I wish you continued good luck with your Google “first hits”. But if you go beyond that methodology, you might find that sources like the prestigious Mayo Clinic hold slightly more water than “ezinearticles“.

      In my opinion, your current research methods aren’t worth a woo.

      • Dewi Morgan says:

        I’m sure you noticed that I’d already read and commented on the BB article you linked, and were just making a crack. Which (along with the rest of your tone) suggests you may’ve been offended by my post. If so, I’m sorry: I did not mean a personal attack, only to express my scepticism about the usefulness of enteric coatings with Omega3s.

        If your claim is “omega3s are negatively affected by stomach acid, despite your reference’s claim that they don’t”, that should be easy enough to show: all you need to provide is a better cite. And I’ve not set the initial bar very high, as you point out, so that should be peasy!

        However, you seem to have suffered a citation fail: neither your Mayo link, nor your wikipedia link about the clinic, appear to mention anything about enteric coatings. Am I just missing where they mention it (probable, as I often miss what’s under my nose), or did your link to their discussion of it get eaten by the spam-catcher?

        • Cowicide says:

          I’m sure you noticed that I’d already read and commented on the BB article you linked, and were just making a crack.

          I didn’t know you posted in that thread, but yes I was making a crack nonetheless.

          Which (along with the rest of your tone) suggests you may’ve been offended by my post. If so, I’m sorry: I did not mean a personal attack, only to express my scepticism about the usefulness of enteric coatings with Omega3s.

          I was just being smarmy. I probably need to take more fish oil.

          If your claim is “omega3s are negatively affected by stomach acid, despite your reference’s claim that they don’t”

          What reference is that?

          that should be easy enough to show: all you need to provide is a better cite. And I’ve not set the initial bar very high, as you point out, so that should be peasy!

          http://www.hiom.org/fish_oil.html

          It’s not hard to find and you can also put pieces of the puzzle together from the key words within my previous post as well (hydrolysis, etc.).

          However, you seem to have suffered a citation fail: neither your Mayo link, nor your wikipedia link about the clinic, appear to mention anything about enteric coatings.

          You suffered comprehension fail. You missed the point of those links apparently. I guess you forgot you weren’t just saying enteric coatings were useless, you were also claiming any health benefits from fish oil itself was nefarious as well. I was comparing my sources with yours.

          Scroll up to my first post here in case you missed it. Once again, it’s in reference to the benefits of fish oil, not enteric coatings.

          I think we’ve got both fairly covered now.

    • Snig says:

      It is not a woo issue, it is a “fishy burp” preventing issue. Supposedly refrigerating or freezing them may do the same. Theoretically it could decrease efficacy, as it may not be subject to adequate absorption if the capsule is intact too long.

  13. Ugly Canuck says:

    Oops …maybe speak too soon about omega-6…better not take my word for the omega-9s, too.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16641248

    Skepticism always good.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’d like to point out that there are no studies stating that fish oils DON’T work. So, I think the title ‘Fish oil is snake oil’ is rather disingenous.

    There is a lot of empirical evidence that these DO work and as a parent of a severely ADHD & autistic child, we are not left with a lot of alternatives but to self-medicate our children. Incidentally, fish oils DO help these conditions.

    Perhaps the energy spent debating this (when nobody actually knows yet for sure) would be better spent on challenging science to come up with real, effective treatments for these neurodisabilities. In the meantime, I will be relying on fish oils.

    And frankly I couldn’t care less if fish oils improve kids IQ. This clearly is just clever marketing to narcissistic middle-class parents who have nothing better to worry about.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The problem with actual fish nowadays is that most fish is tainted with mercury. The “nicer” the fish, the more mercury there is in it–this is usually the case. It’s kind of depressing. -autonomatopoeia

    • Anonymous says:

      Try sardines. Yummy, low on the food chain (less mercury or whatever else gets passed up through it), and damn good fresh or canned.

    • Anonymous says:

      Mercury content has nothing to do how “nice” a fish is. (I’m not sure whether by “nice” you meant “market value” or “taste” or “texture.”)

      It does have everything to do with the species position in the foodchain and the lifespan of the individuals. That is why yellowtail snapper contain less mercury than bluefin tuna.

  16. Ugly Canuck says:

    Is this the paper the press has generalized into “fish oil”, rather than the omega 3: omega 6 balance?
    Maybe so, eh?

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19672626

    More work needed: but this is the general kind of thing to expect as bio-chemistry begins to move through its second century, IMHO.
    Remember: a hundred and ten years ago, most surgeons did not bother to wash their hands.
    What will be known a hundred and ten years from now?

  17. Hools Verne says:

    Have we solved denialism yet?

  18. deckard68 says:

    Like #18 and #22 and #36 others, I take it to correct a problem, not to enhance some ability. Failure to produce super-powers is not a valid criticism.

  19. Tetsubo says:

    I take fish oil on the orders of my doctor. And I still can’t get my HDL above 33. But my LDL (as of yesterday) was at 47. I eat actual fish as well of course. If I take any more fish oil I might start growing gills. Which might be handy what with the world climate change…

  20. Anonymous says:

    well, i take fish oil (as part of a fatty acid supplement that also has flax oil in it), but only because i HATE eating any sort of seafood. i’m also one of those people who religiously takes multivitamisn for similar reasons (i’m a REALLY picky eater overall). i think that my hair and nails have benefited, at the very least, which i take as a sign of better nutrition.

  21. tim says:

    Now i guess we should debunk Vitamin C. It won Linus Pauling a Nobel,

    Apparently not. Pauling’s Nobel prize for chemistry (1954) was for his work in chemical bonds and complex chemical structures. His interest in megadoses of vitamin C appears to date from some time after that and indeed many other researchers did not manage to replicate his claims.

  22. tsdguy says:

    Saw a TV ad for a new med that lowers tri-glicerides and reading the fine print is see that it essentially super concentrated Omega 3. Seems strange that it’s a prescription. And stranger that these studies are showing no Omega-3 benefits.

    • Snig says:

      Because altered supplements that classify as drugs can be patented, so they can be reimbursed (heavily) for the research, and they can charge prescription drug prices. Otherwise, you do decent research on a substance, you can’t prevent schlocky competition from promoting inferior product with the same name as you, your supplement is slagged and you don’t make millions/billions. Same thing is happening with cinammon. Not saying it’s inherently a bad thing, as drugs are developled, but seems to be the only way the money works in this system.

  23. ryanrafferty says:

    I have been taking Vitamin D on a daily basis for almost a year after reading and listening to Steve Gibson’s research on the topic. It was a bit of an experiment, but I have yet to get sick after going on this regime (despite usually becoming ill a couple times a year).

    1,000 i.u. (one pill/day) has seemed to work for me… so I don’t think all supplements mislead people:

    http://www.grc.com/health/vitamin-d.htm

  24. Edward says:

    The Bad Science article seems to imply that the two billion pound global sales of fish oil are correlated with the treatment of attention disorders in children. However, I take fish oil to boost my LDL cholestrol (as “Tetsubo,” post 7, does). The American Heart Association states

    “People with documented CHD are advised to consume about 1 gram per day of the fish oils EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids), preferably from oily fish, although EPA+DHA supplements could be considered in consultation with their physicians.”

    It is this use which drives fish oil sales, far more than the treatment of ADD or similar juvenile disorders. And there seems to be legitimacy to the cardio health claims.

    This is not to knock the “Bad Science” article–false claims in the popular media need to be refuted–and this does a good job.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Cory, your phrasing is a little misleading: you refer to “the supposed benefits of fish oil”, but you don’t state WHICH “supposed benefits”. I think of “Omega-3 benefits” in a cholesterol context — that’s how I take it, on my doctor’s advice, and it’s how it’s universally advertised here in the Untidy States.

    Until I read the linked study, I’d never heard of any claims of cognitive enhancement for Omega-3s–except, possibly, in dimly-remembered “smart drug” articles from old issues of MONDO 2000–so the excerpt from the Guardian article seemed like a non-sequitur.

    I confess that I don’t always follow BoingBoing links. If I didn’t have a personal interest in the effectiveness of Omega-3s, I probably would have just glanced at your opening paragraph, and my brain would have filed that datum under “Omega-3 Claims = Woo”, without regard for WHICH claims.

    May I politely request one of BoingBoing’s traditional red-letter edits to make the post more specific?

    Thank you.

  26. Anonymous says:

    That’s funny, because all I ever hear in the media is how supplements are totally worthless. Occasionally there will be a headline about the new “miracle” supplement, but after that there seems to be only negative press. Often the studies of herbs use very low amounts, much less than would normally be used therapeutically, and when the herbs don’t work the news media claims this is “proof” that the herbs are really snake oil.

  27. lionelbrits says:

    I was under the impression that the biggest consumer of fish-oil was the salmon farming industry.

  28. Anonymous says:

    You get a better source of OMEGA-3 from nuts and seeds anyway. However nuts and seeds are overpriced, and fish-oil is a bi-product.

    However if I were in a position where I felt I needed OMEGA-3 I’d rather have a handful of seeds in the morning than a capsule of fish juice, thank you very much.

    Nothing you body needs comes exclusively from a corpse. Simple as.

  29. Ronald Pottol says:

    I started taking it for depression after reading preliminary study results on Salon.com in 1998 or so, it has made a huge difference for me, and there are a fair number of studies about it for mental health benefits.

    • libraryboi says:

      I have been taking a vegan Omega-3 supplement which is derived from algae. (That’s how the fish produce it, through the food they eat. So there’s no need to kill the fish!) It has had made an enormous difference in my life. I suffered from depression and crushing fatigue for over 15 years, had been on multiple antidepressants and was desperate. I read about links between Omega-3 and brain function and decided I couldn’t lose. After 3 months I started waking up earlier and my mood has improved considerably. Not everything is rainbows and sunshine, but I would hate to have read this post before trying it as it would have discouraged me from the greatest improvement in my quality of life that I’ve known.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Now i guess we should debunk Vitamin C. It won Linus Pauling a Nobel, and addresses so many conditions that Big Pharma would rather you not know about it.

  31. Anonymous says:

    > “I started taking it for depression after reading preliminary study results on Salon.com in 1998 or so, it has made a huge difference for me, and there are a fair number of studies about it for mental health benefits.”

    > “The benefits of fish oil (the kind with 0mega-3) were decuced from the reduced amount of bipolar sufferers in the population of countries where large quantities of fish are consumed.”

    From a place that doesn’t rely on anecdotal evidence (the Mayo link above):

    > “Several studies on the use of omega 3 fatty acids in depression, including positive results in postpartum depression, do not provide enough reliable evidence to form a clear conclusion or replace standard treatments. However, based on one recent study, omega-3 fatty acids may have therapeutic benefits in childhood depression. Promising initial evidence requires confirmation with larger, well-designed trials.”

    > “Bipolar disorder – Several studies in this area do not provide enough reliable evidence to form a clear conclusion.”

    Incidentally, if it worked for unipolar depression it would most likely NOT work for bipolar depression considering the mechanisms that trigger and control both are entirely different, and considering that to date pharma UPD treatments when used for BP are at best ineffective and at worst horrific (triggering mixed state reactions in BP is about the worst thing you can do).

  32. Snig says:

    Snake oil may not be snake oil.
    The original snake oils traditionally used (as opposed to the patent medicine ripoff) may have had benefit for a few complaints as well.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1026931/pdf/westjmed00120-0094a.pdf

  33. Christhegirl says:

    I usually admire Cory’s posts. But I find it a little ironic that this blurb, while talking about “bad reporting” and “insane, unsubstantiated claims,” neglects to mention that the linked article is only about one small subset of claims regarding fish oil. Without explanation, he generalizes this one use — which I’d never even heard of — to all the “supposed benefits of fish oil.” Bad reporting? Unsubstantiated claim? Hm.

    Meanwhile, fish oil supplements have seemed to help stabilize my moods without the toxic side effects of most meds, so I’m not really bothered by the notion that they don’t make schoolkids smarter.

  34. Snig says:

    The wiki on ADHD isn’t reassuring on the meds used either. Don’t recall the headlines referencing that. Research on kids is always scarce due to consent issues (and expensive). Long term effects especially. People have grown up for centuries on a high fish diet, growing kids on a high amphetamine diet is still kinda new.
    http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/165/11/1475
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17160919

  35. Anonymous says:

    I take fish oil for depression, along with some prescription medications.

    Without the oil, the meds are effective, but barely. With it, I’m actually *happy*.

    Placebo effect? I doubt it. I was taking it before I learned of it’s uses for depression. It works for me, and that’s all that matters.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I don’t trust american dietary supplements… they’re unregulated. No one is minding the store. Is it true Orin Hatch is responsible for the lack of oversight (because of his financial interests in a “nutritional” company)? Children’s chewable vitamins have been found to contain lead. Many calcium supplements also contain lead. The last time I bought supplements, it was a major brand multi-vitamin. Opened the bottle, and there was a STRONG stink of iodine coming out of it (previous bottles of the same brand and variety hadn’t)…
    NO thanks.

    • Kacer says:

      I have a problem with “anon” posters. However after an hour of attempting to get a valid name… I rather understand. However, I’m hoping eventually I’ll be something besides “anon”

      [Comment 25: I don't trust american dietary supplements... they're unregulated. No one is minding the store. Is it true Orin Hatch is responsible for the lack of oversight (because of his financial interests in a "nutritional" company)? Children's chewable vitamins have been found to contain lead. Many calcium supplements also contain lead. The last time I bought supplements, it was a major brand multi-vitamin. Opened the bottle, and there was a STRONG stink of iodine coming out of it (previous bottles of the same brand and variety hadn't)...
      NO thanks.]

      I’m not saying that there are NOT some BAD companies out there… but let’s face it… you can no longer watch an hour of TV w/o seeing 2-12 ads by lawyers suing some “big pharma” company for a drug that causes really BAD effects. The FDA pulls drugs off the American market at an alarming rate, yet not fast enough, IMO… So “regulated” ain’t so swift either.

      Gotta actually USE the brain you were given. Do some research and find a decent company….. not easy, admittedly. but…

      http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/dietarysupplements.asp#h5

      How does FDA regulate dietary supplements?
      In addition to regulating label claims, FDA regulates dietary supplements in other ways. Supplement ingredients sold in the United States before October 15, 1994, are not required to be reviewed by FDA for their safety before they are marketed because they are presumed to be safe based on their history of use by humans. For a new dietary ingredient (one not sold as a dietary supplement before 1994) the manufacturer must notify FDA of its intent to market a dietary supplement containing the new dietary ingredient and provide information on how it determined that reasonable evidence exists for safe human use of the product. FDA can either refuse to allow new ingredients into or remove existing ingredients from the marketplace for safety reasons.

      Manufacturers do not have to provide FDA with evidence that dietary supplements are effective or safe; however, they are not permitted to market unsafe or ineffective products. Once a dietary supplement is marketed, FDA has to prove that the product is not safe in order to restrict its use or remove it from the market. In contrast, before being allowed to market a drug product, manufacturers must obtain FDA approval by providing convincing evidence that it is both safe and effective.

      The label of a dietary supplement product is required to be truthful and not misleading. If the label does not meet this requirement, FDA may remove the product from the marketplace or take other appropriate actions.

      So they ARE regulated… just not quite AS MUCH as the “safe” drugs that get pulled daily because they are killing ppl. and, to my mind… that’s probably a good thing. Since “regulation” seems to add cost with little or no ACTUAL benefit. YMMV

  37. Anonymous says:

    I respect Ben Goldacre, because he is not influenced by money. As such I will continue to recommend his website to all patients. Life is reality, regardless of how sweet or bitter. Life is life.

  38. Dewi Morgan says:

    Dietary supplements aren’t regulated worth a damn. To say they aren’t regulated “as much” is like saying buffalo hunting wasn’t regulated “as much” when they were mowing them down with Gatling guns on trains.

    Here, have some stuff made from the bark of some random tree, a bit of mud, and gopher poop. It’ll be fine, because the label says it’s made with all natural ingredients, and that it’s said to promote longevity, increased sex drive and increased wealth. That’s perfectly truthful and not misleading. Poisonous, potentially, but not misleading.

  39. Cowicide says:

    Ug, that link… better sources… please

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