Fish Oil Supplements: Is it Useful or Useless?

A new study found taking fish oil supplements ineffective in preventing the surgically-produced blood vessel access points used for dialyzer treatments from failing. This sounds niche, but unlike other fish oil studies we’ve reported on, blood vessels are the exact wheelhouse scientists thought taking fish oil supplements would make a difference in. The research highlights a continuing trend: Despite their popularity, fish oil pills and their so-called omega-3 fatty acids don’t seem to be holding up to scrutiny.

“Based on the preponderance of the evidence,” wrote Gregory Curfman, editor in chief of Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Letter for the Journal of the American Medical Association, “there is the reason for skepticism that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation is effective” in preventing cardiovascular disease.

The latest study to reach that conclusion was simple. The researchers wanted to see if fish oil would prevent fistula failure—failure of holes surgically created to access blood vessels that are clogging up. Fistula failure is one of the main causes of death in dialysis patients, who need their blood routinely filtered to remove waste, the scientists wrote in their paper published in this month’s Journal of the American Medical Association. The team randomized 576 patients to receive either a placebo or fish oil for twelve weeks after receiving their fistula. Some patients also received aspirin, but it didn’t matter. There was little difference between the groups in the number of failing fistulae.

So, what’s next for you fish oil guzzlers? Scientists behind another clinical trial called VITAL, scheduled for completion in December 2017, are giving fish oil and vitamin D supplements to over 25,000 people in order to check whether the two, either separately or in tandem, reduce a person’s likelihood of developing cancer and other diseases. Until then, Curfman still recommended trying to eat fish at least two to three times a week, on top of the standard recommendations: Exercise, eating healthily and not smoking.