The scoop on latest research about fish oils & omega 3s – by Chloe McLeod APD

If you do a Google search for fish oil, it is clear the business for fish oil supplementation is booming. At times, it almost feels as though ‘take a fish oil supplement’ is a generic answer for every health condition under the sun. There are also frequently conflicting reports about uses and benefits of fish oil. So, what should we believe? This week’s guest dietitian has the scoop.

About our expert:

Chloe McLeod is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Sports Dietitian working at BJC Health, a private practice in Sydney. She is passionate about assisting her clients improve their health and well being through choosing the best foods available to reach their goals. Chloe loves nothing more than exploring the fantastic restaurants Sydney has to offer, or spending a weekend at the snow perfecting her snowboarding skills. Check out her blog or facebook page for healthy tips and recipes, or connect with her on twitter @Chloe_McLeod

Fish oils are something that comes up in my practice nearly every day. So I’ve put together a summary of some of the best papers released throughout 2012 to highlight what the latest research is showing in this very hot area.

Cardiovascular health

The most recent hype was due to fish oil’s apparent in-effectiveness in relation to cardiovascular disease. The study that hit the news recently concluded that omega-3 supplementation was not associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular conditions or death. Previously, evidence supported the idea that increasing levels of omega-3s had a strong protective effect against these conditions, especially in relation to reduction of fat found in the blood, called triglycerides. Other studies are still suggesting that it is useful for reducing these levels, and also for improving levels of ‘good’ cholesterol. The evidence suggests that supplementation alone does not result in all the desired effects; we need to think about food and nutrients together as a whole, rather than on their own.

Our Scoop recipe for Macadamia Crusted Fish and Rainbow Fries is a family favourite.


Working in a clinic with a group of Rheumotologists, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is about fish oil supplementation for arthritis. The current research shows that people with inflammatory arthritis, for example rheumatoid arthritis, will benefit from supplementation. This means a minimum of 2g per day can result in anti-inflammatory actions. However better results have been seen with 2.7g per day (this is what Arthritis NSW recommends). The benefit is yet to be seen though in those with osteoarthritis.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Use of fish oil in IBD, such as Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis is controversial. The Cochrane Review released a paper in 2009 stating that omega 3’s do not support remission or maintenance of remission of Crohn’s disease. More recently, a review published in the British Journal of Nutrition has found similar results; that there is not enough data to make a full recommendation about the use of fish oil, or omega 3 in IBD, because the results are overwhelming for and against.

When you can buy local, sustainable seafood – we loved cooking Prawn Tom Yum soup right on the beach after Mr Surfer Dudes Great Ocean Rd Marathon.

Brain function

A recent study at the University of Pittsburgh found that young, healthy adults were able to improve their memory by increasing their omega 3 fatty acid intake through use of fish oil. The results showed that supplementation of fish oil could enhance cognition in already healthy young adults. Another recent randomized control trial showed that older adults with mild cognitive decline may benefit from consuming fish oil supplements. These are promising results, as the research is indicating that both healthy and unwell people can benefit from fish oil supplementation.

Further to that, a review which was published in Current opinion in psychiatry, found improved mood in people with depression and mood disorders. The researchers found that supplements with more eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) than docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were effective, whilst those that were higher in DHA were not effective.

What about krill oil?

A comparison study was done in 2011 to determine the difference in efficacy between krill and fish oil. The outcome was that krill oil is as, or possibly more, efficient than fish oil in relation to bioavailability, and positive effect on good levels of cholesterol, however, more research is required. Krill oil is also much more expensive when comparing content of EPA and DHA in the oils.

It may be due to high levels of variation between study designs, small or short duration of studies, or external factors affecting results.

What does it all mean?

We are seeing high variation in study results possibly due to high levels of variation between study designs, small or short duration of studies, or external factors affecting results.  As you can see, fish oil can be used for a variety of conditions, all of which are not listed here. Nearly every topic discussed has had some controversy in research outcomes, at some stage or another. Remember, our thoughts about fish oil have changed dramatically over the years, and I would expect them to change further, as more and more high quality studies are done.

The key thing to remember is that supplementation alone does not result in all the desired effects; we need to think about food and nutrients together as a whole. When used in conjunction with a healthy diet, there is no harm, and possibly significant good, in using this controversial supplement.  See an Accredited Practising or Registered Dietitian for personal advice tailored to your age, health condition or life stage.

Editor’s comment:

Thanks Chloe for this excellent wrap up.  As dietitians we follow the food first principle and recognise that there are superior benefits from whole foods due to nutrient synergy.  I agree that eating fish at least twice a week is the healthy habit to focus on and that fish oil supplements certainly can play an additive role or a substitution in people with fish or seafood allergy. This excellent guide to the omega 3 content of Australian fish and seafood may help lovely readers.  I’m sure you have some other questions for Chloe too or your own tips to share?

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