May: Fish oil supplements modestly raise levels blood levels of adiponectin, a hormone associated with lower risk of diabetes and heart disease (specifically insulin resistance and atherosclerosis). The meta-analysis, from researchers at Harvard School of Public Health, reviewed and analyzed results from 14 randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. In total, 682 subjects were treated with fish oil, and 641 were given placebos — most commonly olive and sunflower oils. In those taking fish oil, adiponectin levels increased "moderately" by 0.37 ug/mL.
February: A lifelong diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can inhibit growth of breast cancer tumors by 30 percent. For their study, researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, created a novel transgenic mouse that both produces omega-3 fatty acids and develops aggressive mammary tumors. The team compared those animals to mice genetically engineered only to develop the same tumors.
It's the little things in the one big thing
September: So-called subclinical brain abnormalities are the thousand nicks that can combine to really do you in. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland took MRIs of the brains of 3,660 participants older than 65 years, and re-scanned five years later. Higher phospholipid long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) content was associated with lower prevalence of subclinical infarcts, or tissue death. Specifically, those with the highest blood levels of the PUFAs had about a 40 percent lower risk of small brain infarcts. Alpha-linoleic acid, as from flax, showed no effect.
January:Researchers at New York University found that supplementing pregnant women and newborns with foods rich in omega-3s were found to boost children’s IQ by more than 3.5 points. These essential fatty acids may help raise intelligence by providing the building blocks for nerve cell development that the body cannot produce on its own.
Krill, baby, krill
June: Pharma-grade fish oil concentrate is sold as a drug to lower triglyceride levels. This study found that 4g/day of a krill powder given to obese middle-age men reduced triglycerides by more than 20 percent, and also dropped by 84 percent blood levels of endocannabinoids, which are usually elevated in obese people. Subjects also experienced a significant drop in waist-to-hip ratio and the fat-to-muscle mass ratio, but no actual change in body weight. This study, conducted at Momentum Pharma Services in Germany, was significant because it showed the versatility of krill as an ingredient and substantiated its benefits in a different form, in this case as a powder.
November:Researchers at the University of South Australia gave 90 children with ADHD either 1,109mg EPA, 1,032mg DHA or placebo for four months, then crossed over to the other long-chain PUFA. In those who experienced elevated blood levels of EPA or DHA upon supplementation, improvements were seen in behavior, attention and literacy.
The skinny on omegas
May: Data from 185 research papers showed that fish oils likely play a significant role in stalling refined sugars and saturated fats’ ability to inhibit the brain’s control on the body’s food intake. Fish oil seems to mimic the effects of calorie-restrictive diets. While the researchers, from the University of Liverpool in the UK, concluded fish oils do not have a direct effect on weight loss, the omega-3s do soften the metabolic blows bodies face when eating high-fat diets, from cutting triglycerides to interfering with pro-inflammatory molecules. Published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
The infamous prostate cancer study
July: This study was the talk of the town this summer, and has led - for the first time ever - to a decrease in fish oil supplements sales. This was a controversial (to say the least) re-look at the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). The same researchers who earlier concluded that trans fats were good for prostate cancer prevention now bring you news that fish oil supplements increase risk of prostate cancer by 71 percent.
Red flag #1: Researcher admonishments to stop taking fish oil “in particular through supplementation” come when the 834 study participants never noted how they received their omega-3s – the researchers looked at blood data only, not whether the study participants ingested fish or supplements.
Red flag #2: Population data shows countries with the highest fish consumption, such as Japan, have the lowest incidences of prostate cancer.
Red flag #3: The study was designed to look at two nutrients: selenium and vitamin E.
April: At the Harvard School of Public Health, in conjunction with the University of Washington, researchers found that older adults who have higher blood levels of omega-3s may be able to lower their overall mortality risk by as much as 27% and their mortality risk from heart disease by about 35%. The study was the first to look at how objectively measured blood biomarkers of fish consumption relate to total mortality and specific causes of mortality in the general population. The researchers examined 16 years of data from about 2,700 U.S. adults aged 65 or older.
February: In a small pilot study, scientists at UCLA identified key genes and signaling networks regulated by vitamin D3 and DHA that may help control inflammation and improve the body’s ability to clear the brain of amyloid plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that 1alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 and resolvin D1 greatly improved the clearance of amyloid-beta by macrophages in patients, as well as identified subtleties in the effects the two substances had on the expression of inflammatory genes.
May: Fish oil might counteract the effects of mental stress on the heart. Volunteers who took fish oil supplements for several weeks had a blunted response to mental stress in several measurements of cardiovascular health, including heart rate and muscle sympathetic nerve activity. Conducted at Michigan Technological University and published in the American Journal of Physiology.