We all know it. Fish oil is good for you, right?
It amazes me how many things we assume are true even thought there is little or no evidence behind these claims. It’s just common knowledge that fish oil is good for you. If you take it you can concentrate better and it improves memory. Wait…
We are the DC Skeptics, we can’t accept these claims! We demand evidence! Bring in Science!!!!
Since we seem to be fighting a battle against bad science reporting in the media, let’s do some more fighting. This one comes from the Guardian, an UK paper that, for the most part, has very good science reporting:
Children can learn better at school by taking omega-3 fish oil supplements which boost their concentration, scientists say.
Boys aged eight to 11 who were given doses once or twice a day of docosahexaenoic acid, an essential fatty acid known as DHA, showed big improvements in their performance during tasks involving attention.
That’s all good and stuff, but Bad Science took a look at the study, and guess what. It said no such thing:
This paper showed no difference in performance at all. Since it was a brain imaging study, not a trial, they only report the results of children’s actual performance on the attention task in passing, in a single paragraph, but they are clear: “there were no significant group differences in percentage correct, commission errors, discriminability, or reaction time”.
So WTF happened? I honestly have no idea, but since the Guardian is such an amazing paper, they actually have real science bloggers post on their website. As a reaction to the bad Guardian article, Ben Goldacre (who runs Bad Science) also posted the Bad Science blog post on the Guardian’s website (not sure which one went up first though).
The issue here is the supplement industry. A lot of people complain about Big Pharma – how anyone who supports mainstream medicine is just a Big Pharma shill. Without trying to create a straw-man argument, it seems like people are pushed away by the idea of large corporations supplying us with our medicines. They see supplements and natural medicine as a real alternative, and this way they don’t have to support the major pharmaceutical companies. They are ignoring facts though, choosing unproven supplements over medicines that have been clinically proven to work.
Science is an ongoing process, and the jury is still out on the benefits of fish oil. More studies need to be done. Right now we can’t say if it works as many people claim it does. Here are some studies. They are all on memory and development of various age groups. Some don’t show a relationship, some do.
I can’t (and won’t, because I’m not a doctor) recommend anything except that you think and research this stuff yourself. Don’t read a label claiming amazing things and assume it’s the truth. Don’t listen to every poorly done health segment on the news and think it’s correct. We are skeptics. We research stuff people claim as the truth. Be a skeptic!