At least one in 10 adults uses fish oil as a dietary supplement, but there’s a chance they aren’t getting what they are paying for, according to the documentary “Supplements and Safety,” which aired Jan. 19 on PBS’ Frontline series.
In a blog posted Jan. 19 on the New York Times website, Anahad O’Connor reported that Americans spend an estimated $1.3 billion on fish oil products every year. They are spurred by reports that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart function and promote overall health.
However, the Frontline documentary pointed to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014, which reported a majority of clinical trials found no evidence fish oil supplements protect against heart disease. “I think for cardiovascular disease, one has to say that there is no compelling evidence that taking fish oils protects against a first heart attack or a second heart attack,” Andrew Grey, MBChB, FRACP, the author of the JAMA study and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said in the documentary. “So people who are advised to do that or are doing it are wasting their time and their money.”
In the Times blog, O’Connor wrote some studies have found roughly three-quarters of fish oil supplements on the market do not contain the amount of omega-3 fatty acids advertised on their labels. Some also have found that fish oil supplements are prone to becoming rancid.
The Frontline documentary, which was a collaboration among Frontline, the New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, examined use of potent vitamins, herbs and fat-burning supplements as well as fish oil. O’Connor wrote researchers have found that in many cases they can cause unexpected side effects. Dietary supplements are largely unregulated by the federal government, and experts say adulteration and contamination are common, O’Connor wrote.
Among problems reported in the documentary are large outbreaks of disease tied to tainted vitamins and fat-burning supplements, including one case in which a workout supplement was linked to more than 70 cases of liver damage. The company whose products were at the center of that outbreak, USPlabs, is among 117 companies and individuals the Justice Department filed criminal and civil enforcement actions against last year, O’Connor wrote.
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