New Research Offers Mixed Signals on Fish Oil

The study comes with some big caveats

Fish oil
Is fish oil good for you? A new study complicates matters.
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Plenty of people around the world have embraced fish oil as a big step towards having a healthier heart. Whether that comes from eating more fish or consuming more supplements — or both — it’s the kind of decision that makes plenty of sense on the surface, and can also represent a reduction in the amount of red meat consumed. That’s a positive thing, right?

A study recently published in the journal BMJ Medicine could complicate our understanding of fish oil. The scientists’ conclusions are also a little contradictory. They write that “[r]egular use of fish oil supplements might be a risk factor for atrial fibrillation and stroke among the general population” — but also that taking fish oil regularly could be helpful “for progression of cardiovascular disease from atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events, and from atrial fibrillation to death.”

As Anna Bawden and Nicola Davis explained in The Guardian, the study’s findings suggest that fish oil is useful if you’re already looking to manage a cardiac condition, but that taking fish oil could also put you more at risk for developing that type of condition. The study used data from the U.K.’s Biobank, encompassing over 400,000 people over the course of almost 12 years.

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Bawden and Davis also point to one big caveat when it comes to this study: it only focuses on people who took supplements, rather than on people who got their fish oil directly from eating, well, fish. The study’s authors note that “information on dose and formulation of the fish oil supplements was not available in this study” — which raises some questions over the strength and type of fish oil used by different participants. It’s one more thing to consider when considering your own approach to health and wellness.

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