For years, we’ve all been told that fish oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can protect our circulatory system and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, new research from the University of Georgia says that that isn’t necessarily the case.
Previous academic work has shown that fish oil has a number of purported benefits when it comes to heart health. It’s said to lower cholesterol levels, prevent plaque build-up, and reduce blood pressure. There’s also other research indicating that fish oil may support eye health, weight loss, brain function, and more.
A new 2021 study in PLOS Genetics, however, says otherwise. It looked at data from over 70,000 people and investigated four specific lipids, or fatty molecules, that are biomarkers for heart disease, with particular focus on triglycerides. The team split their data set into two groups, those taking fish oil supplements and those not taking them, and they ran genome-wide scans.
Their research was surprising: It found that fish oil is only effective at preventing heart disease in people with a certain genetic makeup called the AG genotype. And even more interestingly, these supplements can actually increase the risk of heart disease in individuals with what’s called an AG genotype.
So, what explains the discrepancy between other studies that supported the hypothesis that fish oil supplements are good for preventing heart disease and what the Georgia team found? Lead author Kaixiong Ye, an assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia, says that it may be because other research didn’t take participants’ genomes into account. The results affirming fish oil’s purported benefits show that perhaps many people studied inadvertently had optimal genotypes to begin with.
Ye also isn’t arguing to swear off fish oil or other measures for reducing the risk of heart disease. Instead, it’s all about finding what’ll work for a particular individual background “Personalizing and optimizing fish oil supplementation recommendations based on a person’s unique genetic composition can improve our understanding of nutrition significant improvements in human health and well-being,” he explained in a statement.
That said, mapping your own genome can cost thousands of dollars, and even then, it’s not easy for geneticists to find answers to your biggest medical concerns. It’ll probably take many more years before we’re all able to get an in-depth look at what our genetics say about health supplementation.
Does this mean you should absolutely say no to fish oil? Not necessarily, but it does mean you should probably talk to your doctor about what supplements may be best for your health goals and medical history. It never hurts to have a chat!