Are Fish Oil Supplements a Waste of Money?

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people die due to complications of the chronic condition every year. You can’t cure it once you have it. But there’s a lot you can do to lower your risk of getting it.

Even though diet and exercise are among experts’ top recommended prevention strategies, other methods, like dietary supplements, have entered the ever-growing body of options. For years, fish oil supplements have been a common go-to drug for anyone hoping to avoid this deadly, incurable disease.

It might not be the most effective risk-lowering strategy after all.

A review of research analyzing over 100,000 people found that taking supplemental amounts of omega-3 fatty acids might not protect against heart disease as much as we thought.

But does that mean taking fish oil supplements isn’t worth the cost? Here’s what you need to know about the pills that promise a lifetime of better heart health.

Fish oil supplements

Fish oil supplements | Blackzheep/iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Why we need omega-3s

Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids (we’ll just call them healthy fats) to thrive. But there are many science-backed benefits of these fats, including improving symptoms of anxiety and depression and fighting inflammation and age-related mental decline.

Our bodies can’t make these fats, so we need to get omega-3s from food or supplements. It’s especially important for pregnant women to consume enough of this nutrient to make sure their babies are born mentally and physically healthy.

Health benefits of fish oil supplements

You’ll find healthy fats naturally in foods such as salmon, oysters, and other fatty fish, flax and chia seeds, walnuts, eggs, and some vegetables such as spinach. If you eat a lot of processed foods and fewer foods that contain omega-3 fats, you might consider taking a fish oil supplement instead.

Some possible benefits of these supplements might include:

  • Improved heart health
  • Healthy-looking skin
  • Reduced anxiety and depression symptoms
  • A lower risk of age-related mental decline.

Scientists are now saying dietary supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, aren’t an effective way to protect against heart disease. To put it simply, this isn’t because fish oil supplements aren’t good for you. It’s that a pill can’t make up for the absence of healthy habits.

Grilled salmon with lime

Grilled salmon with lime | jaroszpilewski/iStock/Getty Images

How to reduce your risk of heart disease

Fish oil supplements are still good for your heart. Studies suggest they can help lower blood pressure, raise HDL cholesterol, and prevent the buildup of plaques that can increase your risk of having a heart attack.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean taking a supplement without making any other lifestyle changes will make a difference when considering your heart disease risk. If you don’t maintain a healthy diet, exercise at least three times a week, or make an effort to manage stress, these risk factors can still make heart disease a possibility, even if you consume fish oil regularly.

If you’re truly concerned about your heart, you can absolutely take a fish oil supplement. They’re worth your money — if you use them in tandem with other strategies.

Don’t forget about the many risk factors that make heart disease such a common killer in the United States. Reduce your intake of unhealthy fats. Go for a daily walk. Meditate.

Reducing your disease risk isn’t about doing one thing right, but instead building a foundation of healthy habits that are more likely to keep you healthy for decades to come.

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