New reports on omega-3 fatty acids: Not much there there

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Salmon, mackerel, cod, herring. Younger women can cut their risk of cardiovascular disease in half by eating fish like these that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, Danish researchers have reported.

A new study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed eight years of dietary data on about 49,000 Danish women, who had an average age of 30 when the eight-year study began. The researchers found that, among women who ate more fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, there was a 50 percent reduced rate of hospitalization for heart disease, stroke, or high blood pressure compared to the women who rarely or never ate such fish. Even after controlling for other risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, the association between omega-3 fatty acid intake and cardiovascular risk remained significant.

While the benefits of a diet rich in this kind of fish are difficult to dispute, ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava is skeptical about the media s emphasis on the Danish study. Cardiovascular disease in women in this age group is so uncommon that it s difficult to see this study s results as significant. ACHS's Dr. Josh Bloom wonders why the study doesn t address the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for women over the age of 50, who are more likely to actually suffer from cardiovascular disease. He adds, it makes me wonder if they did look at this age group and simply found no effect. Further, this observational study seems to have stretched quite a bit to come up with a finding of statistical, but not clinical significance.

If you prefer to get your omega-3 s from supplements instead of salmon steak, the
results of a recent Consumer Reports test might give you pause. However, we d advise you to keep moving along; there s not much to see.

After analyzing 15 top brands of fish oil supplements for their actual amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as for disintegration, spoilage, and contaminants, the Consumers Union determined that there was nothing fishier than expected about the supplements save that samples in four brands had levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) that might merit a warning label under California s Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.

Unfortunately, says ACHS's Dr. Gilbert Ross, this is another example of how the Consumers Union has become more like an alarmist activist group than an organization actually concerned with providing consumers with reliable information. He notes that California s Prop 65 is too reliant on the precautionary principle to be of much use to public health. There is really nothing in this latest report that warrants any attention.