Is Something Fishy Going On?
If you find yourself thoroughly confused about the recent fishoil controversy, you are not alone. One minute we are told to eat oily fish, then media headlines scream essential fats offer no health benefits at all.
Let’s sort out fact from fiction. Omega 3 is an “essential” fat, our bodies do not make it, therefore we must eat it. But our UK diet now contains very low amounts of omega 3. There is absolutely no doubt that omega 3 fatty acids are fundamental for cell membrane function and the development of our brain and eyes. We also know from countless studies that these fats are important for the prevention of heart attacks and strokes, and have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Omega 3’s improve behaviour, learning and mood in children. In adults, supplementation has been found to reduce depression and aggression.
A recent review of 89 studies in the British Medical Journal, however, found no evidence of a clear benefit of omega 3 on heart disease, cancer and mortality. I asked world renowned expert on fishoils, Professor Michael Crawford from the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University to clarify.
Crawford explains that the review that made the headlines turns out to be valueless and misleading. This is not ‘new’ research at all, but a number-crunching exercise which adds-up the results of previous studies. So far so good, except that it’s all too easy to add together an apple and a pear and get two bananas.
Crawford says “I’m amazed how the recent study passed a peer review – it was written by someone who appears to have little knowledge of essential fatty acids. This is simply not a credible study and even its lead author had concerns.” The report ignores important studies, yet includes those that are deeply flawed and allows for uncritical assembly of data. Studies involving patients already suffering from chronic disease were included, as well as studies using margarine instead of fishoils.
Are you surprised such nutritional ignorance reaches the front pages of newspapers, influencing the nation’s food choices? Consider the fact that when used therapeutically alongside a healthy lifestyle, omega 3 fishoils can compete with statins, anti-depressants, stimulant drugs and anti-inflammatories. Not exactly a healthy financial prognosis for drug companies.
Instead of muddying the water, we should focus on what fish to eat (e.g. small unpolluted oily fish including sprats, sild, whitebait, anchovies, sardines) and to assess the quality and purity of commercially available fishoils (cheaper brands may not be potent enough to be effective, or may contain mercury and dioxins). Finally, in order to make the best use of fishoils, we require sufficient nutrients (vitamins, minerals) and less anti-nutrients (sugar, hydrogenated or fried fats) in our diet.
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus April 2006