Spoon for mom: fish oil as a placebo

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Spoon for mom: fish oil as a placebo
Spoon for mom: fish oil as a placebo

Recently, an international team of scientists showed once again that “pharmaceutical” fish oil does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Doubts about the possibilities of this substance have been expressed not for the first time, but the myth about its benefits is still alive.

Fish fat

Fish oil, along with vegetable oils, is considered the main source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. These acids are weakly or not at all synthesized by the human body, so they can be obtained mainly from food. In medicine, fish oil is considered as a means of combating depletion of the body (for example, with tuberculosis) and strengthening the cardiovascular system.

The belief in the ability of fish oil to strengthen the cardiovascular system dates back to 1973, when British scientists showed that Inuit in Greenland, whose diet is based on oily fish, rarely experience heart attacks, strokes and atherosclerosis. Therefore, for the first time, adults became interested in fish oil, which until then had been prescribed to children (for normal growth).

Research in the following years partially confirmed the benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids for the aging body. In the 2000s, the US authorities officially recognized that fish oil can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and the Canadian authorities - its importance for brain development. At the same time, the admissible dose was determined for the substance - no more than three grams per day.

However, since 2005, scientists have increasingly reported the ineffectiveness of fish oil in preventing cardiovascular disease. Thus, experiments indicate that the ability of omega-3-polyunsaturated fatty acids in the fight against brain aging does not exceed the resources of a placebo. Officials soon doubted the fish oil, saying that the benefits of it remained unclear.

Checking for hemodialysis

In the new work, scientists from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and the United Kingdom conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 576 patients with chronic renal failure. The fact is that one of the most dangerous complications of this disease is vascular dysfunction, the risk of which is increased by hemodialysis - a method of extrarenal blood purification.

In preparation for hemodialysis, an arteriovenous fistula is created in the patient's arm, which directly connects the vein and artery. Under unfavorable circumstances, thrombosis can occur in the fistula, and the hemodialysis procedure itself is repeated three times a week. Therefore, patients with renal insufficiency need universal safe thrombolytics.


As part of the experiment, the authors divided the participants into three groups. The day before the fistula was created, the first group started taking powdered fish oil (four grams), the second - aspirin powder (100 milligrams), the third - a placebo. The drug intake was repeated every day in a random pattern for 12 weeks. Then, for 12 months, scientists observed the condition of the patients.

The results showed that 47 percent of the fish oil patients and 47 percent of the placebo patients experienced failures in fistula creation within a year. When comparing placebo and aspirin, the rate was 43 and 45 percent, respectively. All groups had an identical incidence of thrombosis (60–61 percent) and failure of catheterization (39–40 percent).

Fish oil did not lead to either objective or subjective improvements: the frequency of thrombosis and refusal of procedures was the same in all groups.According to the authors, this again proves the ineffectiveness of omega-3-polyunsaturated fatty acids when it comes to the prevention of vascular disease. However, they do not exclude that the problem lies in the method of delivery of the compounds.

Capsules and Supplements

Pure fish oil has an unpleasant aftertaste. To soften it, technologists pack the active substances that make up the fish oil in gelatin capsules or biologically active additives (BAA). The annual turnover of this market in the USA alone is 1.2 billion dollars. Sometimes co-authors of publications on the benefits of fish oil are acknowledged to be in contact with manufacturers.

However, most researchers agree that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are important for the development of the human body. In addition, there is some correlation between the systematic consumption of fatty fish and the state of blood vessels, although it is not known whether omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with this.

In other words, seafood can benefit the cardiovascular system, while dietary supplements or fish oil capsules are no more effective in this matter than placebo. Apparently one of the main beneficiaries of the healing capsule and supplement legend is the pharmaceutical companies. On the other hand, no one has yet taken away the right to self-hypnosis from a person.

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