Is fish oil pass?
Health fads come and go, even in
alternative health. A substance that received a good deal of acclaim a
few years ago is fish oil. Recently, however, we have not heard so much
about this product from the deep, as herbs seem to be the growing topic
in health magazines and the popular press. Has fish oil lost its health
Fish oil first burst onto the cardiovascular scene in the
1970s, when epidemiological studies looking at the consumption of fish
in relation to cardiovascular disease revealed that Eskimo populations
that consume large quantities of fish show relatively low evidence of
cardiovascular disease. This led to numerous studies exploring the
potential link between fish and cardiovascular health.
research on fish and fish oil resulted in a tug of war. One study
confirms their health benefits; another "proves" that benefits are
exaggerated. A newer study reconfirms their benefits yet again, only to
be "second-guessed" by yet another study.
What was this tug of war
and who won? Initially, it was over fish and fish oil’s effect on lipid
(fats, such as cholesterol and triglycerides) levels. Consuming fish oil
was said to lower, then raise, then lower, then raise cholesterol
levels. One point that was agreed upon was that fish oil lowers
And as for cholesterol levels? The debate over
whether fish oil reduces or increases LDL cholesterol levels can perhaps
best be summed up by W.S. Harris, as cited by Neil Stone, M.D., in a
1997 issue (65:4) of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Stone notes that in the majority of studies reporting reductions in LDL
cholesterol levels, the subjects’ consumption of saturated fat had also
been lowered when they switched from a control diet to a diet that
included fish oil. However, when the consumption of saturated fat intake
remained constant, the inclusion of fish oil appeared to result in an
increase or in no change in LDL cholesterol levels.
those who consume a more "standard" Western diet and fish oil may
experience an increase in LDL cholesterol levels-has been noted by
researchers, and studies have been performed in which
cholesterol-lowering foods were taken along with fish oil. Adler and
Holub, writing in the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1997;65:2), say, "In conclusion,
garlic supplementation significantly decreased both total cholesterol
and LDL cholesterol, whereas fish oil supplementation significantly
decreased triglyceride concentrations and increased LDL cholesterol
concentrations in moderately hypercholesterolemic men. The combination
of garlic and fish oil prevented a moderate fish oil-induced rise in LDL
There has also been a "back and forth" on how fish
and fish oil affect cardiovascular health. Results are beginning to
indicate that consuming omega-3 fatty acids, as found in fish and fish
oil, "may reduce vulnerability to a ventricular fibrillation and,
thereby, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease mortality." (Journal
of the American Medical Association. 1995. 274:17)
recent word on the role of fish oil in cardiovascular health is
overwhelmingly positive. Susan and William Connor, in a review of fish
oil and its effect on coronary artery disease (American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition. 1997. 66:4[S]), state
"The omega-3 fatty
acids of fish and fish oil have great potential for the prevention and
treatment of patients with coronary heart disease. Unlike many of the
pharmaceutical agents used in patients with coronary artery disease that
have just a single mechanism of action, the eicosa-pentaenoic and
docosahexaenoic acids of fish oil have multifaceted actions. One of
their most important effects is the prevention of arrhythmias. ...
Especially important is the ability of these omega-3 fatty acids to
inhibit ventricular fibrillation and consequent cardiac arrest. ...
These composite effects suggest a prominent therapeutic role for fish
oil in the prevention and treatment of coronary artery
Fish oil is not the only healthy substance that does
not get as much press as it used to. Both bee pollen and aloe vera hit the
health market years ago and have since settled into a quiet middle age.
However, they may be entering a second childhood. Recent articles in
Healthy & Natural Journal (Vol 2. No. 3) and Health Naturally
magazine (Aug/Sept. 1997) have noted that bee pollen offers protection from
many common chemical pollutants and from the side effects of many drugs.
Articles on aloe routinely appear and tout its wound-healing and digestive
maintenance properties. For information on bee pollen or aloe vera, call
1-800-456-2462, Option 1.
"In conclusion, omega-3
fatty acids from fish and fish oil greatly inhibit the atherosclerotic
process and coronary thrombosis by many actions and should be considered
as an important therapeutic modality in patients with coronary artery
disease and to prevent coronary artery disease in highly susceptible
|Fish and fish oil have swum beyond lipids and
cardiovascular health. Recent studies also indicate that they have
beneficial effects on arthritis, breast cancer, Crohn’s disease, and asthma