Media misreports omega-3 research

In an all-too-familiar scenario, a recent study recommending increased omega-3 oil consumption has been reported negatively by some sections of the press because it also called for further research into the benefits of omega-3s in relation to cardiovascular health and stroke prevention

The study's authors have complained that their findings, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), have been misreported. "We did not report that 'long chain omega-3 does not offer any protection from heart disease,' that 'omega-3 fats have no effect on total mortality, combined cardiovascular events, or cancer' or that omega-3 fats are of 'no benefit,'" they wrote on the BMJ website.

In response to media reports that the study amounted to a negative result for fish oil, the authors were explicit: "This is not what we found, or what we reported (despite our being misquoted in much of the press)."

Dr Tony Lewis, executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council, an Australian health product industry group, highlighted the potential effects on public health of such misreporting. "The new study is just the latest of many to add to our understanding of the benefits that omega-3 fish oil can offer," said Dr Lewis. "The study's authors explicitly support the current recommendations that we all increase our intake of omega-3 fish oil, but some news reports have interpreted the study in a way that discourages fish oil consumption."

The study, conducted at the University of East Anglia, noted differences in the effect of fish oil on different groups — for example, omega-3 fish oil may be less beneficial for men who are suffering from angina, but more beneficial for those who have already survived a heart attack. The study, a meta-review of several studies, suggests omega-3 fish oil is beneficial, but that not everyone benefits from it equally. It called for more randomised controlled trials — intervention studies where large numbers of people increase their fish oil intake, so that their health outcomes can be compared with others whose intake is unchanged.

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