Fish oil supplements may not prevent cognitive decline as much as we thought, say researchers at the National Institutes of Health in a new study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. While these findings could be bad news for the $1.2 billion fish oil pill industry, experts say that diets rich in omega-3s are certainly beneficial to your health.
What They Found
Researchers from across the country followed 3,741 subjects with an average age of 73, for a total of five years. Half of the participants took an omega-3 fish oil supplement while the other half took a placebo. Every two years the researchers tested participants for cognitive function, using questionnaires that assess memory and problem-solving abilities. Neither group improved.
Why It Matters
A lot of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounds the supplement industry. As a result, consumers may spend money on unnecessary supplements. A 2012 report by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shows that 7.8% of U.S. adults used fish oil supplements, making them the most popular non-vitamin/mineral supplement. These people could be wasting their money if their main goal is to prevent cognitive decline.
10-Year Use Trends for Individual Non-Vitamin, Non-Mineral Natural Products
Studies like these cast doubt on the efficacy of fish oil supplements, but that doesn’t mean that omega-3s have zero benefit for cognitive health. Various studies have shown that foods with high omega-3 content (such as fatty fish) are beneficial for memory and thought processes in older adults. And large meta-analyses (systematic reviews of numerous trials) suggest that people who get more omega-3s in their diets may have a lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and Alzheimer’s. More research is needed, but in the meantime, you can feel good about eating omega-3-rich foods, like those in the Mediterranean diet.