There's something fishy about fish oil
April 6, 2015 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Fish oil: it's been touted as a solution to heart health, dementia, glaucoma, and a host of other ailments. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of the evidence for its benefits is equivocal at best. And it turns out that fish oil isn't particularly useful for our pets, either. Worse, it turns out that the foundational study that kicked off interest in fish oil as a supplement is not quite as promising for fish oils as it is usually construed and cited. Given that fish oil can induce strokes in high quantities (and may interfere with treatments like chemotherapy), is poorly regulated, and is expensive, should we be promoting fish oil supplements as strongly as we do?
posted by sciatrix (113 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Alls I know is that fish oil helps with my dry, dry skin during the winter and also gives me the bizarre dreams I need to entertain my friends.
posted by Dmenet at 11:38 AM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Regardless of its health effects, the global fish populations are declining at an alarming rate.

Culling of invasive fish species helps, a lot of that is being processed into fish oil supplements.

What's more interesting is that there's biotech companies using algae to produce all sorts of novel and useful things like vegan friendly omega-3 fatty acids and protein supplements. After all, the only reason fish have the omega-3's is because the smallest fish eat algae and plankton, and it travels its way up the food chain.
posted by habeebtc at 11:45 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


I won't miss the burps.
posted by colie at 11:45 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Not to worry. No need for innovation-killing regulation. The market will sort it out.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:46 AM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Regardless of its health effects, the global fish populations are declining at an alarming rate.

Culling of invasive fish species helps, a lot of that is being processed into fish oil supplements.


Be that as it may, I think it's probably wise to look into the actual efficiency of things that are marketed as health supplements. I'm sure we can think of other ways to process and consume invasive fish species besides turning them into an expensive placebo. Perhaps we could try eating them instead.
posted by sciatrix at 11:50 AM on April 6, 2015 [22 favorites]


I recommend eating large quantities of delicious cornmeal-battered fried farm-raised catfish.

Of course, that's my answer for everything.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:53 AM on April 6, 2015 [39 favorites]


No, we shouldn't
posted by Renoroc at 11:58 AM on April 6, 2015


For those who want the Omega 3s, but don't want to use fish oil: Use Hemp seed oil. It's great stuff and has the all the benefits plus comes from a cleaner and more sustainable source. Eat it raw by the spoonful, not for cooking. Ive been using for it for years.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:59 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The reputation of the Nutritional Supplements Industry keeps getting worse as the few products that have any serious research behind them are seeing that research shot full of holes. (Meanwhile EVERY sale ad from Costco includes $3-5 off on Green Tea Fat Burner, Digestive Health Probiotic and Glucosamine/Chondroitin - seven syllables that sound like they were created by a Saturday Night Live writer) And sadly, this is just fueling the "anti-science" movements like the anti-vaxxers and the it's-what-you-DON'T-eat-that-matters (Gluten!) crowd. So much reform is needed in scientific research and publishing that it's starting to look like maybe that impossible cure for All Kinds of Cancer may have actually been discovered but nobody is supporting further study or even reporting on it because they can't make money off it. (We KNOW it's not Omega 3 Oil)
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:04 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's great stuff and has the all the benefits

Liquidwolf, isn't the point of all these articles that the benefits, if indeed there are any that are significant, have been drastically oversold?

I mean, if you like it, by all means keep taking it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:05 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


But what about its delicious flavor?
posted by lkc at 12:08 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is why I stuck with snake oil.
posted by srboisvert at 12:10 PM on April 6, 2015 [106 favorites]


Basically, if something is good for you, it does not follow that X times something is X times good for you.
posted by xigxag at 12:12 PM on April 6, 2015


Liquidwolf, isn't the point of all these articles that the benefits, if indeed there are any that are significant, have been drastically oversold?

Isn't the point of this article about fish oil specifically?

Hemp Seed oil isn't touted as health fad supplement to my knowledge, it just happens to be very rich in Omega 3. And the benefits are self evident.. hair grows faster and thick, fingernails grow quicker and harder. Definitely feels healthy to me and from everything I've read it is.
I'm not selling it, just giving my advice based on experience as a good alternative to fish oil.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:13 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Personal experience: I use hemp oil as an alternative to olive oil as a dressing because of the o3:o6 ratio and that the anti-inflammatory effects are immediateand noticeable ... My joints begin to pop less as I work within 3 hours of taking a dose and after 1 week of regular doses I don't pop at all and myold injuries begin to slowly unwind themselves again. The problem is that because it isn't a domestic product here in the US (yet) it is cost prohibitive.

As far as the fish oil claims, I'm of the stance that the oil from the fish depends on the quality and quantity of SCFA's in the did chain below them, the same as nutrient content being plants being directly related to the quality of the soil they are grown in.
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 12:21 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is why I snuck with stake oil.
posted by JHarris at 12:30 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


The enter industry should be regulated
posted by Postroad at 12:31 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not about to go to bat for any supplement industry claims, but the physiology of dietary omega-3 seemed pretty convincing when I last looked into it.
posted by zennie at 12:32 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I took fish oil for a really long time, and eventually stopped because I forgot what I was taking it for.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:33 PM on April 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


I've been known to say that they'll pry my fish oil from my cold dead fingers, so I was nervous to read these articles. But, hey, it's ok! I'm not taking fish oils for heart, eye, or brain health, or pregnancy or prostate health. It does wonders for my skin and anxiety, though. I almost wish it didn't, as the articles are right that the good stuff is expensive. And if it's a placebo effect, as I sometimes wonder, surely enough studies disproving it would break the placebo effect, right?
posted by instamatic at 12:34 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'll continue to follow the advice of my extremely fit, championship bodybuilder friend, when asked what supplements he takes:

"A multivitamin, because I don't always eat that well, and fiber because pooping is good for you".

Actually, I just take the fiber, because pooping regularly is indeed neat and wonderful. #teamfiber
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:39 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is why I snack with truck oil.
posted by Iridic at 12:40 PM on April 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


Hemp seed oil...Eat it raw by the spoonful

I tried this for a while, and it's hard for me to express my disgust. It was like eating a spoonful of cold, melted butter. God, so gross. I had to force myself to take it, and after a while I just couldn't.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:40 PM on April 6, 2015


Great infographic: Snake Oil Supplements?
posted by Jubal Kessler at 12:42 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


... surely enough studies disproving it would break the placebo effect, right?

Depends on whether you believe those studies, I guess.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:43 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The evidence for supplements in general, and multi-vitamins especially, being good for you is evaporating quickly.

Vitamins in particular now have solid evidence of doing more harm than good.

Fish oil also dramatically reduces the benefits of chemotherapy, for further example.

Eat a healthy diet, not too much meat or sugar, leave it at that.
posted by Cosine at 12:44 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Fish oil" is popular because of the high ratio of omega-3 to other oils (in some brands!). Hemp oil unfortunately does not beat it (I wish it did). But a varied with veggies, nuts, and seeds beats everything!
posted by zennie at 12:45 PM on April 6, 2015


Omega-3 fatty acids from animal sources and plant sources are not equivalent. I've heard from nutritionists that the shorter-chained plant compounds are converted in the body to the longer chained versions in low efficiency meaning much of it goes to waste.

On the other hand, I've heard that they're actually more bio-available in vegetarians than in omnivores. If you're eating healthy meats that are are not primarily grain-fed/finished, though, it's very unlikely that adding any Omega-3s to your diet will benefit you. It's vegetarians (vegans, moreso) that are most likely to be deficient or marginal.

Flax, chia and hemp are pretty much the only plant sources of Omega-3s that are both substantial and in favourable ratio to Omega-6. Many other seeds and nuts have substantial quantities but poor ratios (olive oil) and many vegetables have favourable ratios but poor quantities due to very low fat content (leafy greens, beans, squash).

Does any of it make a substantial difference, though? I guess that's the point of the article.
posted by WaylandSmith at 12:46 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bloody hell, the only thing I've been able to remember to take every morning for the past two years, and it's going to turn out to be a crock along with ginko and the rest of the hoodoo voodoo.

I guess it's back to 'eat food, not too much, mostly plants.'

Dammit.
posted by Mooski at 12:46 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Got a diaper rash? Slap some fish oil on it. Otherwise, what the fuck.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:50 PM on April 6, 2015


This is why I snark with stank oil.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:50 PM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


I tried krill oil but now this whale is chasing me around.
posted by jamaro at 12:57 PM on April 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


Hemp Seed oil... hair grows faster and thick, fingernails grow quicker and harder...
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:13 PM on April 6


Eponysterichowwlllll.
posted by howfar at 12:59 PM on April 6, 2015 [25 favorites]


This is why I filter with Meta oil.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:59 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is why I stick with baby oil.
posted by Foosnark at 1:00 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is why I stick with baby oil.

Yeah, but wild baby stocks are shrinking year by year.
posted by mittens at 1:01 PM on April 6, 2015 [29 favorites]


You get olive oil from olives and fish oil from fishes. Where does baby oil come from ?

#dadjokes
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:01 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've had luck with shrike oil.

I'm stuck with snark oil.

Why truck with hark boil?
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:07 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I use the lemon infused Norwegian bottled stuff, kept nice and cold because NO BURPS. I choose to believe that it is good for my joints, I'll keep doing it. If one tablespoon of that and one multi vitamin is bad for me, it can't be worse than the tidal wave of coffee I consume.
posted by drowsy at 1:08 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


eat food, not too much, mostly Nutella. from the jar. with a spoon.
posted by sio42 at 1:09 PM on April 6, 2015 [79 favorites]


The basic benefits of omega-3s which the NYT blog post doesn't appear to dispute are the reason I've taken fish oil:
In theory at least, there are good reasons that fish oil should improve cardiovascular health. Most fish oil supplements are rich in two omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — that can have a blood-thinning effect, much like aspirin, that may reduce the likelihood of clots. Omega-3s can also reduce inflammation, which plays a role in atherosclerosis. And the Food and Drug Administration has approved at least three prescription types of fish oil — Vascepa, Lovaza and a generic form — for the treatment of very high triglycerides, a risk factor for heart disease.
And then it goes on to say that studies from the 90s
prompted groups like the American Heart Association to endorse fish oil about a decade ago as a way for heart patients to get more omega-3s in their diets
Nothing in the links I've looked at appears to say that fish oil isn't a good source of omega-3s or that omega-3s don't have those properties. I take a whole bunch of medications regularly anyways that cost a heck of alot more than the fish oil does; this is interesting information but not enough to stop me from tossing my fish oil and generic-brand multivitamins into the mix of pills I take.
posted by XMLicious at 1:12 PM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


You get olive oil from olives and fish oil from fishes. Where does baby oil come from ?

I am unfortunately reminded of the horrifying Ambrose Bierce story "Oil of Dog."
posted by JHarris at 1:17 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fish oil was one of the only supplements with "solid" evidence around it. I think I'm basically going to believe that nothing does anything at this point.
posted by the jam at 1:17 PM on April 6, 2015


Eat sardines.
posted by Abon Sapi at 1:24 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Tumeric is the new snake / fish, oil.
posted by Oyéah at 1:28 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


drowsy, the Norwegian cod liver oil actually has your daily requirement of vitamin D in it, which is awesome. You know how Norway is in the upper latitudes and doesn't get a whole lot of sun during the winter? The tradition of having cod liver oil is specifically for that vitamin D deficiency.

So, I'm saying that cod liver oil is different than this fish oil/omega-6/omega-3 business. (At least I think so.)
posted by jillithd at 1:29 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Flax and hemp oil do not contain EPA (or DHA) I believe. Yes your body can make either of them from ALA (all three being omega 3s) but that ability decreases with age and without a diet that consists essentially entirely of hemp oil. They are not bioequivalent by any means.
posted by aydeejones at 1:31 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fish oil also dramatically reduces the benefits of chemotherapy, for further example.

Chemo is basically a mild (and necessary) poisoning to bring about the death of undesirable cells while not quite killing off the desirable ones? So if you're not on chemo, ingesting the right fatty acids might help your desirable cells live longer? Since omega-3s make up cell membranes and such?

One thing I'm fuzzy on is how beneficial Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plants is compared to Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which come mainly from fish, considering "... The human body generally uses ALA for energy, and conversion into EPA and DHA is very limited."- source
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:31 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Vitamins ... more harm than good..." doesn't mean anything. Vitamin D3 is the new god of the vitamins and for good reason
posted by aydeejones at 1:34 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Oil of Dog."

It doesn't smell too bad, unless you get it wet.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:34 PM on April 6, 2015


Soylent switched last year to algae as its omega-3 source.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:35 PM on April 6, 2015


This is why I stuck with Shake Shack.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:38 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I won't miss the burps.

...The gas coming from fish oil doesn't always manifest as burps in everyone, sadly. Ask me how I know.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on April 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Norwegian cod liver oil actually has your daily requirement of vitamin D in it

Oh god you have reactivated a childhood trauma that I had long forgotten. I searched around and apparently this is a German cultural thing:

Some Germans believe sickness is an expected consequence of strenuous labor. Health is maintained by dressing properly, avoiding drafts, breathing fresh air, exercising, doing hard work, and taking cod liver oil.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:44 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, wait, it wasn't hemp oil I took, it was flax oil. That stuff was nasty.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:57 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


The cod beg to differ, and their begging is getting quieter as their numbers dwindle.

Cod liver transplant.
posted by Oyéah at 1:57 PM on April 6, 2015


Tumeric is the new snake / fish, oil.

I use Tumeric when I want to pretend I am heavy duty long term smoker with stained fingers. Mostly in my dreams where I am fish oil eating Viking but sometimes when I am meeting someone new I want to completely fail to impress like most of my wife's old friends from wayback. The health benefits of this are negligible.
posted by srboisvert at 2:00 PM on April 6, 2015


Oh my. I have one doctor who wants me to take Omega-3 for reasons related to one condition and I also take a drug that suppresses my immune system that is used in chemo for a related condition. I foresee a discussion with my doctors in my future. Thank you for this post, as it will probably make a difference in my treatment.
posted by immlass at 2:05 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Soylent project choosing to do something is a mark against that thing, in my opinion.

Did the creator ever follow-up on the health ramifications of his decision to take a powerful antibiotic to kill his entire gut flora so that he wouldn't have to poop? Because that was literally insane.
posted by truex at 2:07 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are number of studies that have suggested it's the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids in the diet that matters, the reason being that they seem to play opposing roles in terms of regulating inflammation, and compete for some of the same metabolic pathways. This is worth mentioning because a lot of fish oil supplements are <50% omega-3 by weight, which means they likely aren't providing any beneficial change in the dietary ratio, and potentially may be worsening it.
posted by dephlogisticated at 2:10 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Did the creator ever follow-up on the health ramifications of his decision to take a powerful antibiotic to kill his entire gut flora so that he wouldn't have to poop? Because that was literally insane.

What? Somehow I missed that entirely. Surely this cannot be.
posted by Frowner at 2:15 PM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm charmed by the absurdity of insisting in the same breath that fish oil has no protective effects and keeps chemotherapy from killing cancer cells -- which are only your own cells, after all (unless you're a dog or a Tasmanian devil).
posted by jamjam at 2:19 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Feces are almost entirely deceased gut bacteria and water. I massacred my gut bacteria the day before by consuming a DIY Soylent version with no fiber and taking 500mg of Rifaximin, an antibiotic with poor bioavailability, meaning it stays in your gut and kills bacteria. Soylent’s microbiome consultant advised that this is a terrible idea so I do not recommend it. However, it worked. Throughout the challenge I did not defecate.
Life Without Water
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Life Without Water

I...really, truly don't even know how to react to that. It sounds like a terrible idea, but so does Soylent, and apparently Soylent isn't a terrible idea? Or at least, until it's transformed into all that the world's poor are allowed to eat it doesn't seem like a terrible idea?
posted by Frowner at 2:32 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I started taking fish oil supplements after seeing them recommended all over AskMeFi as a depression/anxiety aid. These articles don't mentio that aspect, unless I missed it. Anyone still planning to continue for that benefit?
posted by Locative at 2:47 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


it is all of it a terrible idea or a series of terrible ideas wherein the same predictable dweebs try to hack the human body

stop that you nerds just eat a fucking sandwich
posted by poffin boffin at 2:48 PM on April 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


I can't tell if most of MetaFilter is engaged in some next-level snark here, but you do realize that snake oil as made from Chinese water snakes is similarly high in omega-3 acids? (And not rattlesnakes as was popularized in America, and even that was often not part of the sold concoction.) And that's why it was effective in treating inflammation and perhaps other effects?

The cancer study seems interesting. Seeking out these potential sources of resisting treatment sounds really helpful.
posted by halifix at 2:49 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Umm, sorry for the Soylent derail. Maybe we can get back to talking about fish? Fish is not people.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:49 PM on April 6, 2015


you do realize that snake oil as made from Chinese water snakes is similarly high in omega-3 acids?

are you perhaps unfamiliar with the common usage of the expression "snake oil" to mean ineffective fraudulent medicines? because no one in this thread is actually talking about oil which came from snakes.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:53 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


The problem with snake oil is that most of the easy reserves have been drained. Ever try to frack a snake? Not a pretty process, I tell you what.
posted by truex at 2:56 PM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


This is why I shampoo with steak oil.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:06 PM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


surely enough studies disproving it would break the placebo effect, right?

Actually, no -- one of the really amazing things about the placebo effect is that it seems you can still get it even if you're aware that you're taking a placebo.

But also, I think you're assuming a lot about how familiar people are with the studies behind health supplements.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:24 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is why I stuck to gin and pythonic.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:42 PM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm aware of its popular connotations, just sorta surprised that there's never been any previous MetaFilter comment about eastern snake oil ever. Anyways, here's some history behind the term, an old short article with a data table often quoted, and a summary of some recent studies into snake oils, including Erabu/Chinese sea snakes.
posted by halifix at 3:51 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh, nevermind. I've found one previous comment about that.
posted by halifix at 3:56 PM on April 6, 2015


That's pretty awesome, halifix. I had no idea that actual snake oil was a thing outside of 19th-century patent medicine.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:30 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Bear in mind too that what was being sold as "snake oil" back in the day might not have even contained any snake oil. Just like "dietary supplements" today.
posted by fiercecupcake at 4:47 PM on April 6, 2015


These guys labdoor do independent tests of supplements. They have rankings for fish oil.
posted by chrchr at 4:52 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Ever try to frack a snake? Not a pretty process, I tell you what.

One of those snake fracking operations started up near me. Now we get tiny snakes out of our faucets with the water.
posted by VTX at 5:01 PM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


I've had it with these mother-fracking snakes in my mother-fracking plumbing!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:03 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oh hey, that labdoor ranking is nice. I may get the Vitamin Shoppe fish oil for my mom to take to China (heh) instead of the Kirkland brand, because if she's going to bring back supplements of questionable merit, I'm making sure they're the more concentrated supplements of questionable merit.
posted by halifix at 5:11 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is why I chew on gritty spoonful mountains of baking soda and rub balsamic vinegar into my eyes.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:23 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Stop taking supplements, people! All of them! Just stop already!

The list of supplements it may make sense to take is as follows:

1) Vitamin D.
2) That is all.

Seriously, please just stop.
posted by Justinian at 5:24 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Pregnant women and those with a specific, diagnosed deficiency excepted.)
posted by Justinian at 5:25 PM on April 6, 2015


3) Scotch
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:06 PM on April 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


That's also the only supplement with proven increased effectiveness at higher doses, Florence.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:54 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't know about fish oil but fish sauce is pretty bomb
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:05 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


surely enough studies disproving it would break the placebo effect, right?

Actually, no -- one of the really amazing things about the placebo effect is that it seems you can still get it even if you're aware that you're taking a placebo.

But also, I think you're assuming a lot about how familiar people are with the studies behind health supplements.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:24 PM on April 6


Sorry, I was mostly being facetious because I am, in fact, absolutely going to keep taking fish oil supplements (because skipping a few days spikes my anxiety as if I were badly tapering from an SSRI), and I feel a little self-conscious about it in the face of the pro-scientific articles posted here. I am anti-pseudo-science, pro-vaccine, etc. But I am by golly going to keep taking the possibly-only-placebo-valued O3 supplements anyway. At some point last year, when I ran out for a few days, thinking "oh, what the hell, they're probably just placebo anyway, what difference does it make?" I ended up on the bathroom floor, clutching the empty bottle and deciding that I didn't fucking care if it was a placebo, because it was worth $30/mo to me either way, just to not feel like that any more. (FWIW, they were prescribed by my doctor, so I guess I've got that going for me in the not-as-crazy-as-Jenny-McCarthy sweepstakes. And also the no-wonder-it's-a-good-placebo awards.)
posted by instamatic at 7:17 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Welp, I can't say I noticed any effect whatsoever from taking fish oil gummies, so now I don't feel guilty for not buying more of the things.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2015


This is why I stick to snakes, with oil, when performing under my stripper name "The Oiled Snake"
posted by Greg Nog at 7:44 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Rather than ingest Li'l Lisa Slurry, I'm all about the algae oil (when I remember to take it). It didn't do anything for my swollen ankles, though; the only things that helped that were taking down my standing desk and cutting back on sodium.
posted by limeonaire at 7:53 PM on April 6, 2015


There's something fishy about fish oil

I've been herring this for a while now. Do you think I should scale back? Or is this Big Hemp just carping on about nothing?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:03 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Nutrition is the new abysmal science.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:37 PM on April 6, 2015


Everybody at work just keeps telling me to take tequila for everything.
posted by Redfield at 8:43 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I eat Kleenex for breakfast and use soft, hygenic Weetabix to dry my tears.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:43 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The aloe vera in those fancy Kleenex help you poop better.
posted by Abon Sapi at 10:47 PM on April 6, 2015


Looks like I chose the wrong week to quit snake oil.
posted by iotic at 12:44 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I took fish oil for a really long time, and eventually stopped because I forgot what I was taking it for.

Dementia?
posted by colie at 12:51 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


Fish oil makes me depressed.

Last time I looked at the importance of omegas 3:6, the foundation in which the theory rested didnt strike me as particularly solid.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:17 AM on April 7, 2015


I hate how these studies are reported. They specifically found that there is little evidence that fish oil lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke, but then the research gets interpreted as "we proved it: fish oil is totally worthless" and everyone makes fun of people for wasting their money on it.

While it may be absolutely true that fish oil does nothing for cardiovascular health, it could still have any number of other benefits that increase quality of life. I don't even take fish oil but I've heard any number of reasons to take it besides "prevents heart attacks", not least its potential effects on mood and depression (though I'm not sure how any of that mood research holds up).

I just wish we could carve out a little space between "stupid waste of money" and "perfect solution to all of our problems" when we think about our nutritional choices. I remain open to the possibility that stuff like this can have benefits that may not measurably affect life expectancy, but which are still worthwhile for some folks.
posted by dialetheia at 1:34 AM on April 7, 2015 [14 favorites]


But you could apply that argument to virtually anything. Something has either reliably been shown to have positive effects or it hasn't.

On the other hand... I have a tiger-repelling rock I wouldn't mind parting with. I could offer you a good deal on it. You don't see any tigers around, after all, do you?
posted by Justinian at 1:59 AM on April 7, 2015


If it's that simple, why weren't the researchers in these articles quoted making the same stark dichotomy? If it were really true it seems like it would be easy to get a scientist specifically examining these issues to say something like, "In the scientific studies concerning specific positive effects none of the ones examined have been shown reliably to occur, ergo taking fish oil can be said to have no more value than a tiger-repelling rock."
posted by XMLicious at 2:43 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I dunno, my tiger-repelling rock did wonders for my depression.
posted by winna at 4:34 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


You could show me studies that say cranberry extract is ineffective and will make my eyes bleed and I still wouldn't chance the urinary tract infections inevitably that occur when I stop taking it.
posted by almostmanda at 6:23 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


“The standard of care is so good today that adding something as small as a fish oil capsule doesn’t move the needle of difference,” he said. “It’s hard to improve it with an intervention that’s not very strong.”

Dr. Stein also cautions that fish oil can be hazardous when combined with aspirin or other blood thinners. “Very frequently we find people taking aspirin or a ‘super aspirin’ and they’re taking fish oil, too, and they’re bruising very easily and having nosebleeds,” he said. “And then when we stop the fish oil, it gets better.”


It doesn't have an effect, so don't take it; but it does have an effect, so don't take it
posted by mrbigmuscles at 6:39 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


It doesn't have an effect, so don't take it; but it does have an effect, so don't take it

Take it with something else and there is a synergistic effect?
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:22 AM on April 7, 2015


Actually, I do see a tiger around, so the influence of your rock does not extend to my environs, therefore it is worthless.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:29 AM on April 7, 2015


The issue is that nutritional science is notoriously underresearched. I'm pretty annoyed that people are taking a cautionary body of articles about the research and manufacture of a very popular supplement, and being arrogantly dismissive. It feels disrespectful towards patients, scientists, and those trying to learn for themselves.

The snake oil thing is a trivial nerd's peeve that I can get over.
posted by halifix at 9:15 AM on April 7, 2015


Soylent switched last year to algae as its omega-3 source.

I remain surprised that the entire fish oil business has not been overtaken by algaes. It can be grown in high densities cheaply and you can get any number of combinations of EPA, DHA, and ALA. Plus a variety of other vitamins and interesting enzymes.

I grow phytoplankton for raising marine fish. I am not well versed in human nutrition, but pay attention because marine fish have some specific requirements that need to be met using marine algae. Specifically that unlike freshwater fish, marine fish can't manufacture DHA. Because it's abundant in the food chain. Freshwater fish have had to adapt to converting EPA and ALA to DHA. So we do that with enrichments (which are frequently algae based anyway) or live algae. I hear the Salmon industry uses other fish; which seems like an awful waste if true.

But I digress. The ease in which growing algae that produces the important omega3 and 6 fatty acids leaves me stunned we don't see more of it used in lieu of fish oil. I have seen Schizochytrium sp. as the main ingredient in some generic DHA supplements. I wonder if it isn't in part because people are looking for *fish oil* and not the important components of said supplements.

Plus, you can grow algae that looks like this, which is cool!

I have become less skeptical of supplements in a very limited set of parameters. In part because I saw an alternative medicine doctor who changed my mind. I was very resistant to even seeing her, but a trusted doctor recommended her, saying she was a doctor first, and the integrative medicine came second. She was formerly a sports medicine doctor, which is why the other doc trusted and recommended her. And while she was not able to fix the primary reason I came to see her (not her fault, no one has), she did manage to cure my heart burn AND get me off omeprazole; the dosages which had been increasing over time to keep up with the increasing heartburn. She did it with a careful plan of weaning and using Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice. Of course it could be placebo or it could have been just the careful weaning, though I don't think so. And then there was the magnesium at night which did appear to help with sleep. On the other hand, tumeric, and a few other blended supplements did zero for pain and sleep issues.

I take iron supplements, but that actually had nothing to do with the above doctor; I was extremely deficient and continue to be moderately deficient if I don't take it. Even eating meat (probably more meat than I should.) This is not uncommon in women, because we're really not meant to bleed EVERY month.

The point of that story is that I think supplements can have a place in medicine and daily health. But then we run up against the lax regulation. Whenever I buy something, I have no idea if what I'm taking is actually what the bottle claims. The iron obviously is because my serium ferritin improved while taking it. But then again, for all I know, it's laced with lead and mercury. And the same holds true for fish oils. Who knows what you're actually getting most of the time. Is price even a good indicator, or is it just the perception of quality that goes along with price?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:34 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Of course it could be placebo or it could have been just the careful weaning, though I don't think so.

Why not?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:56 PM on April 7, 2015


But you could apply that argument to virtually anything. Something has either reliably been shown to have positive effects or it hasn't.

I don't know this literature super well, but I think it's more complicated than you are saying here because fish oil has actually been shown to have positive effects on biomarkers associated with health. Fish oil does seem to reliably lower triglycerides; even the results that showed no effect on overall cardiovascular-disease-associated mortality (nb, for the specific types of patients they recruited) did show that triglyceride levels were significantly lowered in the fish-oil group. High triglyceride levels in other studies have been linked to increased risk of things like sudden death from cardiovascular disease, regarding which the 2013 NEJM study actually noted they had low power to detect differences in rates. Still doesn't mean everyone, or indeed anyone, should take it, but it's also not a situation like, say, echinacea, where AFAIK there is no effect on outcomes or any clinically-relevant biomarkers.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:07 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Darn, should've stuck with sake.
posted by DRoll at 7:50 PM on April 7, 2015


Of course it could be placebo or it could have been just the careful weaning, though I don't think so.

Why not?


Because I have generally not had positive (or any) results with supplements. I was worse on days I didn't take it and when I ran out.

I don't know if skepticism plays a role in the placebo effect, but I've generally not expected them to work and they generally do not. The exceptions being the objective deficiencies. And it's unlikely it's the doctor. Either, as she suggested a bunch of supplements that didn't do anything.

But, I'm also aware that I could be wrong and it still could be the placebo effect.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:40 PM on April 9, 2015


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