Fish Oil Effectiveness: Does It Actually Work?
We’ve all heard of fish oil – objectively, the weirdest named mainstream supplement there is.
Fish oil pills are a billion dollar industry that’s been growing for decades due to their supposed positive effects on heart health. For a country where cardiovascular disease is the leading killer, it’s no wonder that people have been quick to jump on the bandwagon.
Origins of Fish Oil
The whole craze has its origin story in the seventies when a couple of scientists discovered that the Inuit, who consume a ton of fish, seals, and whale, had almost no cardiovascular disease. This ran contrary to popular thinking which said that a diet high in fat probably “clogged” the arteries. The duo hypothesized that the beneficial fatty acids called “omega-3s” were resulting in lower cholesterol and triglycerides in this population. In the 1980s and 1990s, some studies suggested a benefit as well, and the demand for fish oil started to grow. Once the American Heart Association endorsed omega-3s in the early 2000s, the market took off like a rocket.
Hundreds of Fish Oil Studies
Despite hundreds of studies over the past few decades, though, the results have been disappointing. Compelling evidence for benefit just hasn’t been there. (Or some studies have shown benefit, while others have shown harm or no effect). In fact, the former president of the AHA Robert Eckel said, “Almost all studies of fish oil supplements show no benefit. I really feel this remains unproven.” What once seemed so promising was fizzling out fast.
But, in 2018, enter Vascepa. What’s different about Vascepa? Two things. For one, it only contains purified EPA, the most beneficial of the omega-3 fatty acids. Two, it is given at the very high dosage of 4g per day. And a new study called REDUCE-IT, evidence showed that Vascepa actually decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease by 25%. This would put Vascepa – in terms of overall benefit – in the same efficacy range as the popular group of drugs known as “statins” (drugs like Lipitor and Crestor).
How Cardiologists Feel About Fish Oil
Early reaction from cardiologists is interesting. “I thought the Vascepa study would be negative, colored by all the prior failed studies so I’m surprised. I’m willing to eat my shoe on this one. This could be really beneficial to people,” said Dr. Ethan Weiss, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. Weiss was not involved in the Amarin study. And Dr. Norman Lepor, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said, “I went into this study not convinced that Vascepa would make a difference, but these results will definitely change my practice and the way I treat patients.”
Talk with Your Doctor, or Us at Remedy
Remedy recommends talking with your doctor (or us!) about your heart health, and what’s right for you. Taking any prescription meds to lower cholesterol is usually done when lab testing shows that your numbers are high in conjunction with an assessment of your cardiac risk. (For example, if a patient is young and healthy with no family history of early heart disease, we don’t always treat elevated cholesterol. This is because the overall risk is low.) Still, we recommend that you be screened for high cholesterol according to current guidelines (usually if over age 35), and speak with your doctor about needed interventions.