New omega-3 study not worth the paper it's printed on
If you think the weatherman's often wrong, you should check out how the rest of the news operates.
Most of the hacks in the media are wrong so often they make the weatherman look like a genius -- and there's no part of the business where they botch the story as often as healthcare.
Case in point: the latest "big scoop" on fish oil.
Headlines around the world declared fish oil won't do a thing to improve cognition or prevent decline -- and it's because of what the Washington Post declared to be "one of the largest and longest" studies of its kind.
Just one problem: This study wasn't worth the paper it was printed on!
It's a textbook example on how NOT to conduct research. And I've got eight really good reasons why this new study isn't even worth the paper it was printed on.
First, this supposedly very important study of brain health was chaired by -- ready for it? -- an eyeball specialist, and it was sponsored by the National Eye Institute.
Second, all the participants in the study were selected by eye specialists and based not on their risk of cognitive decline, but their risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Third, the reason it was so eye-focused is because it was a vision study... not a study of cognitive function. The primary goal was to measure the risk of AMD.
There were three "secondary" goals -- and cognitive function wasn't one of those, either. In fact it's listed way at the bottom in the "other outcomes" section.
Fourth, over the five-year study, it's true there were no real differences in cognitive decline among patients given fish oil supplements or those given a placebo -- but there was no real sign of dementia in either group.
Makes it a little tough to test a supplement if no one gets the disease it's supposed to prevent!
Fifth, about that "placebo." There really wasn't one. Everyone was given some combination of nutrients -- some got fish oil, and some got other nutrients including lutein and zeaxanthin as well as vitamins C and E, beta carotene and zinc.
Sixth, nearly half the patients in the study were on statins, which are known to cause memory loss and speed cognitive decline -- which would offset any benefit of fish oil.
Seventh, the cognitive tests were all given over the phone. Given the average age of 73 and the difficulty hearing over the phone, that's an incredibly poor choice (and that makes it impossible to include important visual tests).
And eighth, the patients in the study were given very small doses of fish oil at just 350 mg DHA and 650 mg EPA per day.
If the study were run by a neurologist instead of an eyeball specialist, maybe they'd know that the very large body of evidence for fish oil and brain health shows the benefits kick in at between two and five times that dose, and that DHA is more important to cognition than EPA.
DHA alone has even been shown to boost memory, learning and attention in folks with cognitive decline or mild cognitive impairment -- but only at a dose of 900 mg a day, or nearly triple the levels used in the study (I recommend fish oil supplements with a minimum of 1,000 mg of DHA per day to my own patients battling cognitive problems).
None of the mainstream media reports on this study mentioned any of these problems. All they did was copy from a press release sent out by the researchers.
When it comes to brain health, don't trust press releases. Trust the science -- and the science shows fish oil holds one of the most important keys to this very complicated puzzle.
So take your fish oil supplements, my friend. You brain will thank you for it.