No benefit from fish oil supplementation? One study says so, but something smells fishy.


In a recent study (full article here) published in the Journal for the American Medical Association (JAMA) researchers found that DHA supplementation (DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is one of the two types of essential fatty acids (EFAs) found in fish-oil) did not result in a reduction of high-level depressive symptoms (postpartum depression) in new moms. The researchers also concluded that the DHA supplementation by mothers did not improve the cognitive or language development of babies during early childhood.

I see several problems with this study that deserve consideration; study participants were already as late 21 weeks into their pregnancy, the mother's previous dietary intake of essential fatty acids was not considered, and the supplementation provided was 800mg of DHA.

Pre-pregnancy nutrition, specifically EFA supplementation by women who are simply planning on becoming pregnant, would be one way to address the first two issues. Addressing the third issue would require a little more effort.

The typical westernized diet is rich in Omega 6 fatty acids from processed foods made with corn oil, soy oil, and products made from corn and soy-fed animals. It is also deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids which are found in high-concentrations in cold-water fish, flax seeds, walnuts, green-leafy vegetables, and grass-fed grazing animals.

The imbalance between Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids in the average western diet is not going to be remediated by 800mg of DHA. Anthropological research (which has subsequently been verified by clinical research) shows that the average western diet provides 15 to 30 times more Omega 6 than Omega 3 (~14-18 grams a day vs. 1 or less grams a day).

My recommendation to future researchers would involve directing study participants to reduce their overall consumption of Omega 6's and at the same time increase their intake of Omega 3's. The goal of this type of intervention would be bringing the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio into the ideal range of 1-1.

While this study provides a good starting point for future research, further, and more detailed, investigation is required in order to draw definitive conclusions.
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About Tony Fed

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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