Q: I’m so confused about omega-3s. There’s now some study that says they can be risky to take. Should I stop taking my supplements? — Larry T., Gainesville, Fla.
A: We’re glad you asked! The study you’re referring to was a new analysis published in the European Heart Journal Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy. It reviewed five randomized controlled trials that looked at the effects of omega-3 supplementation on cardiovascular outcomes.
The participants in those trials had high triglyceride levels, were at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or had been diagnosed with it. Overall, 50,000 participants were given from 0.84 grams to 4.0 grams of fish oils (a source of omega-3s) or a placebo for up to 7.4 years.
The conclusion: Those folks taking a fish oil supplement increased their risk of developing A-Fib (an arrhythmia/irregular heartbeat) by around 37%.
The researchers did say that it’s largely unknown why omega-3s may increase the risk for A-Fib. And they correctly stated that omega-3s have been “previously shown to stabilize the cardiac membrane resulting in protective effects against arrhythmias, including ventricular arrhythmias.”
Our thoughts: There were various doses and types of fish oil in those studies and people with high triglyceride levels were not all the same in terms of demographics or health — although the review did take that into consideration. There is data from randomized controlled data showing that omega-3s decrease age-related cognitive decline and decrease the risk of heart attacks in those with high triglycerides. So, we think that what we have here is a statistical aberration (numbers don’t always tell the truth), and we need more research to know if the A-Fib risk is enough to make folks with elevated triglycerides or cardiovascular disease avoid omega-3 supplements.
What we do know: Getting omega-3s from food (your body requires them but cannot make them) is essential to protect all your organs from inflammation and chronic disease. We recommend three servings of 3 to 6 ounces of salmon, sea trout, herring, anchovies or sardines a week. And talk to your doctor about taking — or continuing to take — the supplement.
Q: What weight-loss supplements do you recommend? I need help! — Lanine G., Lincoln, Neb.
A: Losing excess weight is difficult, and you’re not the only one looking for a shortcut. Around 15% of Americans (100 million-plus) who are trying to lose weight have used a weight-loss supplement. But do they help you shed pounds and keep them off? A recent, comprehensive review looked at 121 randomized placebo-controlled trials on the effectiveness of over-the-counter weight-loss supplements and found that they’re a waste of money.
The research, presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity, looked at data on nearly 10,000 adults who took herbal supplements made from green tea; Garcinia cambogia and mangosteen (tropical fruits); white kidney bean; ephedra (a stimulant that increases metabolism); African mango; yerba mate (herbal tea made from the leaves and twigs of the Ilex paraguariensis plant); veld grape (commonly used in Indian traditional medicine); licorice root; and East Indian globe thistle (used in Ayurvedic medicine). Only white kidney bean showed a statistical, but not a clinical, weight-loss benefit compared with placebo.
The weight-loss supplements evaluated were chitosan (a fat-blocker made from shellfish); glucomannan (a soluble fiber found in the roots of the elephant yam); fructans (a carbohydrate composed of chains of fructose) and conjugated linoleic acid (that claims to change body composition by decreasing fat). All but fructans lead to a minor increase in weight loss compared with placebo — but it wasn’t enough to improve your health.
What does help: good support systems — consider joining a group such as OA or WW; cognitive behavioral therapy; working with a nutritionist and an exercise physiologist; taking it slow — losing a pound a week; and remembering that when it comes to improved health, it takes a lifetime commitment to get life-extending results. “What to Eat When” can be your guide.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at email@example.com