Tales of the prowess and health effects of fish oil (or, more generically, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) have flopped around over the years. We have been told that fish oil is all but a panacea; and we have heard it is entirely useless. But this flipping and flopping have suddenly probed whole new depths of absurdity. Within literal days of one another, two headlines appeared on Medscape, arguably the premier information portal for health care professionals, reaching diametrically opposing conclusions.
On Sept. 18, we got: “Omega 3s: Is This the Final Word?” and a commentary about the ASCEND trial telling us “the supplements had no effect on serious vascular events, cancer, or mortality.” Then, on Sept. 25, we got: “REDUCE-IT: 25 percent Reduction in MACE with High-Dose EPA.” EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid, one of the two major omega-3s in fish and other marine sources (the other being docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA), while MACE stands for “major adverse cardiac events.” In other words, a week after being found useless in ASCEND, omega-3s were busy preventing heart attacks, strokes, and sudden cardiac death in REDUCE-IT.