Fish oil – The science needs to be done right

Fish oil has had significant publicity in recent years because of its potential to positively impact on our physical and mental health. Research indicates that it is the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish oil that gives us these benefits and there is now hardly an ailment or physical condition where fish oil hasn’t been shown to have some benefit.

So what’s so good about fish oil?

Fish oil is known to act as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-coagulator, to have an immune boosting effect and to increase neural network connectivity in the brain. It has been implicated as an effective treatment for many kinds of depressive disorders, for skin complaints, for inflammatory conditions and countless others, but probably the most dramatic results you will have heard about have been for its impact on brain function and on heart disease.

Fish oil has been found not only to lower the risk of developing heart disease but can dramatically cut the risk of sudden death in heart attack patients. How do we know all this? We know this because countless research studies have been conducted in many countries across the world and the results made public.

One of the reasons that fish oil is thought to have such an impact is because of changes in our diet over the past century. Long ago, we ate a very balanced diet containing roughly equal amounts of Omega 6 and Omega 3; however, in recent years our Omega 6 consumption has massively increased whereas our intake of Omega 3 had dropped to an all time low. Omega 6 is known to promote inflammation, tumour growth and blood clotting whereas Omega 3 does the exact opposite.

As our fish are now polluted and can contain dangerously high levels of mercury and other toxins, we are advised to restrict our consumption of oily fish. No wonder there has been such a great deal of interest in fish oil, because fish oil that has been purified is perhaps now the safest way of obtaining these fatty acids as we cannot find them anywhere else in any significant amounts.

However, in order to be sure that we are getting the right information, it’s absolutely essential that the results of any research studies are reliable, with proper controls in place, and accessible to the public.

Media publicity

Currently there is a huge amount of media publicity regarding the benefits of fish oil for improving concentration, learning and behaviour problems in school children. Where did the media get their information from? Everyone is talking about the number of research studies and trials that have been completed and the results that have been found, but where are they?

Sadly, most of these reports are coming from the results of so called trials that have not yet been made public. Why not? If the results are as dramatic as claimed, then we need to know all the details.

Published Results

There are some studies that have been conducted into the benefit of fish oil for children with some kind of developmental or learning disorders and these include the following:

• Voigt et al conducted a randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trial in 2001 involving 63 children with ADHD and found no significant difference between those taking the fish oil and the placebo group

• Richardson et al conducted a trial in 2002 involving 41 children with learning difficulties and found a small improvement in those taking fish oil

• A pilot study in 2003 conducted by Stevens et al on 50 children with attention and behaviour problems found a small improvement in those taking fish oil

• One trial involving 40 participants with ADHD conducted by Hirayama et al found no difference for those taking fish oil and ironically, an improvement in the placebo group

• Richardson et al conducted a large scale trial involving 117 children with dyspraxia and found no significant difference in the symptoms of dyspraxia but there were improvements in both reading and spelling

According to the media, there have been many research trials that have shown how fish oil can help children concentrate in school and improve their level of academic achievement and these reports contain details of a particular kind of fish oil, but what are these claims based on? Why have the results of these trials not been published and made public?

Conclusion

There is little doubt that fish oil is making a dramatic difference to mental and physical well being for many people, and we need more unbiased and published results so that we can all make informed choices. Basically, the science needs to be done right, and all the results of all the trials need to be released not just a “positive spin” placed on the results by the company who supplied the fish oil.