I can’t start this blog without at least calling your attention on more time to July’s “Fish oil Associated with Prostate Cancer” study. At the time I refuted that study on every level while everyone else was cowering in fear.
I am about to do it again with another big highly touted study that “Has people questioning the value of Omega 3 supplementation for Health”.
Some bullet points are in order from my past blogs as well.
1) There is a clear cut tendency to publish “loud” contrarian headlines in the media these days especially on the internet. Let’s face it if they just keep telling you what you already know, you are not going to read anything else there and that means no responses to ads and no money for advertising agencies and merchants. Don’t believe me? If you still watch TV try to find any channel that shows “good news”!
2) There is a clear cut tendency to bash fish oil in exactly the same way. Once again I guess people realized good news doesn’t sell. But if you actually get the news alerts, there has been a ton of good news for Omega 3 and health all through this year. It is just not getting the attention. This includes some of the very same people who jumped on the “Fish oil No Good for…” bandwagon turning coat and saying the opposite in their blogs and news broadcasts. Once again I have to chide my colleagues in medicine for being lazy ignorant and easily cowed by public opinion. Keep in mind Science does not generate that opinion, marketers do!
3) I have been very clear in my critiques of the studies showing negative results because the conclusions are not justified by those results. Keep in mind finding “no benefit” is far different that “causing harm”! The one exception was the prostate cancer study which directed you to avoid Omega 3’s and eat more Omega 6’s. This is clearly harmful and dangerous advice. This came from the National Cancer Institute. I cannot for the life of me understand why the NCI would want to increase YOUR risk of cancer but that is exactly what following the advice from that study will do in my opinion.
4) The usual issues are the lack of Omega 3 levels, the lack of ongoing Omega 3 monitoring, the lack of attainment of meaningful levels and conclusions that don’t make sense based on the results.
The current “Fish oil no good for…” study suffers from a number of them and its business as usual, or should I say “science as usual” on a bunch of levels.
The data derive from a highly respected large study that was run over many years to determine the effects of standard medical therapy on women’s health. That study is called the Women’s Health Initiative. I could go into great detail about the major findings of that study here but let me spell it out for you in simple terms.
Hormone replacement therapy as practiced as standard of care in the allopathic medical community for several decades greatly increased the risk of heart attack, stroke, urinary incontinence, breast cancer, and blood clots and may decrease the risk of colon cancer and bone loss.
Two things that were swept under the run in these conclusions were: the commercial estrogens used have little resemblance to human estrogens. In fact they are made from horse pee which contains over 20 different estrogenic compounds that are very different than human estrogens. Some of those compounds have not yet been chemically identified, characterized or thoroughly investigated for their properties in humans. Secondly they did say much about who was responsible for this. Drug companies and doctors.
Speaking of Drug Companies the largest manufacturer of estrogen products, Wyeth saw its profits drop dramatically after the findings of the WHI study implicated Premarin and Provera on such a wide scale. Subsequently they filed a “citizen’s petition” against the use of bio identical hormone therapy and the FDA has jumped on board citing “lack of scientific evidence” that bio identical therapy is different or better. This is true if you restrict your scientific evidence to only U.S, based studies. Not so if you read European and other literature where there is more widespread use of bio identical hormones and less drug company dominance.
Also is anyone else wondering how a drug company can be considered a “citizen”? Only in America!
The short version of the WHI findings is that they are made for TV and the internet. In other words they are ALL BAD NEWS without one shred of hope for anything that was studied. Score one for modern medicine huh?!
With that in mind let’s look today’s topic, the sub group analysis of this wonderful study done years after it was terminated found about Omega 3 levels. Yes that is right, The WHI is long dead, but there must have been some blood hanging around frozen. I am not an expert in blood storage but the WHI started in 1991 and ended 15 years later in 2006- 7 years ago. I have to wonder about the validity of using 7 year old blood to draw widespread conclusions but as I said I am not an expert in that. The authors do freely disclose “accidental thawing” of the samples allowing a temperature rise of 108 degrees Farenheit for over 2 weeks and then back tracking to do a study to show the effects of their mistake.
Here is what they said about that: “Results from these experiments were used to develop regression calibration equations and estimate subjects’ predegradation. “ Did you get all that!? Ok so just so you know the samples were supposed to be stored at -112F and they were allowed to approach 0 for over 2 weeks.
Next, the actual time from the single sample they drew to the first “brain” test was a median of 3 years
Ok enough of bashing their design and execution, back to the study findings: In a reasonably large group of women (well over 2000) the researchers from the University of Iowa found that increasing Omega 3 levels in older women did nothing to statistically alter a woman’s ability to think. Firstly notice it did not say it made them worse, it said there was no effect. Does that really get translated well with: Fish oil no good for…” internet headlines?
Or do you immediately think something “bad” when you read the words “NO GOOD!”
Next there was no attempt or mention of supplementation or dietary habits at all.
As a matter of fact the conclusion was drawn from a SINGLE blood measurement of Omega 3 content (in RBC membranes) This is almost exactly the way I have used the Ideal Omega test until Sept. 1 before the Government decided it needs to be regulated-effectively removing it from internet distribution!.
So from a single blood test done once with no follow up, the conclusions were drawn after 6 years. Anyone else think that is fishy? It seems to me that people’s Omega 3 levels are very much variable and need to be rechecked at least 2X a year depending on diet, supplementation, activity level, and stressors.
But wait there is more and here is where the science gets even more confusing and fishy!
The women were stratified into 4 “tertiles” according to their Omega 3 levels. So I decided to look at those levels and see what they actually meant.
For those of you who attended either of the 2 free omega 3 teleseminars you will really understand this since it relates to the values we (you and I) were able to get from those Ideal Omega test kits I can no longer sell!
In the WHI study the “High” group of omega 3 had the equivalent of 34% omega3 and 66% Omega 6. In other words they were floridly Omega 3 deficient and Omega 6 dominant the only time they were sampled.
So using the criteria the researchers were allowed to use to draw their conclusions I am allowed to draw this one: The WHI study shows that a population of elderly women who at their very best have a very low level of Omega 3 in their blood and are therefore Omega 6 dominant get no benefit from their lack of Omega 3!
Come on people! It’s not rocket science. If you are Omega 3 deficient you cannot expect to be healthier than the rest of the population which is also Omega 3 deficient.
Keep in mind these people where the “Best” of the bunch. I shudder to think what the lowest tertile looked like.
As a matter of fact I have a challenge for the folks at the University of Iowa. Go back and look at overall morbidity and mortality from vascular disease and cancer. I would bet that even the low Omega levels seen in the “best” or “highest” group were protective against some of these age related diseases compared to the lowest group.
So what is the final conclusion? If you are going to bother to pay attention to your Omega 3 levels and I think you should since they are probably the most predictive of what is going to happen to you overall, then eat, or supplement to a level that actually means something. What is “high dose”?
High Dose to me is above the level where our ancestors routinely ran and where the hunter gatherer/fisher populations that have a fraction of our Western diseases run today. That would mean Higher than 70% omega 3 and 30% Omega 6- exactly the opposite values of the “high” group in this study.
I do want to give one Neurologist in particular a lot of credit for telling it like it is.
Peter Whitehouse MD said, “You cannot conclude from this study that having omega-3 in your diet is not important for your brain health and for your body health as well. They are important for practically all aspects of body health particularly heart – it may also affect other things like risk for cancers,”
Dr. Whitehouse has no doubt read all the “Fish oil no good for…” studies as well and is not duped by bad science.
In defense of the researchers at the University of Iowa who released this study, they are not making any wild negative conclusions either and are simply reporting the data on what is at best a poorly designed study with several potential error sources.
They did their job- they got published in a major journal. You can infer a lot about the quality of the journal by the studies it publishes but again no one is making those associations.
They are also not telling you what I just told you which are massively important!
They are doing their job and I am doing mine-educating you!
Stay tuned because there is a lot more fun interesting and POSITIVE stuff you can learn to help yourself stay young and healthy!
Neurology Sept 25, 2013
Omega-3 fatty acids and domain-specific
Secondary analyses of data from WHISCA
Eric M. Ammann, MS
James V. Pottala, PhD
William S. Harris, PhD
Mark A. Espeland, PhD
Robert Wallace, MD,
Natalie L. Denburg, PhD
Ryan M. Carnahan,
Jennifer G. Robinson,