Don't Let Poor Omega-3 Clinical Trials Discourage You
July 08, 2009 10:50 AM
Author: Darrell Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The headline "Doubts over heart claims of omega-3 fats" was published in March of 2006 in the world's largest international news agency, Reuters. This article reported on the findings of a study on omega-3 fats and heart health, which published the exact same month in the British Medical Journal. The article found in Reuters claimed that the systematic review of 89 studies led to the conclusion that there was no substantive evidence that omega-3 fats actually protected individuals against cardiovascular disease or cancer. The New Zealand Herald picked up this article and announced that the heart-healthy advice to eat more oily fish was incorrect, as it advised its readers to put fish oils on the top of the list of medical beliefs that turned out to be myths.
In actuality, the omega-3 investigation, conducted by Lee Hooper and coworkers at the University of East Anglia School of Medicine, was a meta-analysis, as it combined data from several available clinical trials. Meta-analyses are highly speculative due to the differences in the scientific protocols between the included studies, which can lead to difficulty in exposing a common factor. A good meta-analysis is often useful to put contradictory evidence into perspective. However, a poorly designed analysis can lead to bad science and faulty conclusions.
This Hooper analysis was a review of 48 randomized controlled trials, along with 41 cohort studies. However, the investigation only used as few as 15 controlled trials and 3 cohort studies in compiling the data. Included in this analysis were studies that had very small sample sizes and provided little data on the effects under investigation. Extremely low death rates in several of the studies that were included worsened the situation, which resulted in a very large confidence interval and a lower analytical power than what was expected. Additionally, there was a large degree of difference among the included studies. Some of them had death rates in their control groups as low as 0.5%, while others had extremely high control-group death rates exceeding 15% and 22% in two cases. This fact indicates that there were large disparities in the health of subjects. This much heterogeneity among subjects requires a high degree of analytical power in order to produce meaningful results. This was something that the Hooper study lacked.
When addressing the above issues, the authors of the study pointed out that “there were too few events such as deaths, associated cardiovascular events, and incidences of cancer to rule out the possibility of important effects from various interventions.” This basically means that the numbers produced in the study produced results that didn't show much of anything. In a case like this, a person should be extremely cautious as to dismissing a possibly association based on negative results. Dr. Mike Knapton, the Director of Prevention and Care for the British Heart Foundation cautioned the public that they should not stop consuming omega-3 fats or eating oily fish as a result of this study. The wise advice given by Dr. Knapton, however, was not enough to stop the media from fabricating stories and devaluing the necessity for omega-3 fats.
The fact is that omega-3 when taken on a consistent basis can help reduce cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health. Look for high quality omega-3 fish oil that is molecularly distilled at your local or internet health food store. Always select name brands to ensure quality and purity of the product you purchase.
*Statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Omega-3 fish oil is not intended to diagnose, treat and cure or prevent disease. Always consult with your professional health care provider before changing any medication or adding Vitamins to medications.