Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

There They Go Again....

"The idea that fish oil has some protective effect on heart disease was very doubtful from the beginning. The hypothesis (of its healthful benefits) was created on very shaky grounds."
"The result of these investigations confirm that the prevalence of coronary artery disease in the Inuit population is as great or greater compared with non-Eskimo populations."
"Although the notion that Eskimos are protected against coronary artery disease cannot be supported by scientific evidence, a large number of recent publications reporting on the effects of fish oil consumption still perpetuates this belief."
"The alleged absence of cardiovascular disease in Greenland Eskimos is a paradoxical finding, sustained on a diet high in animal fat, absence of fruits and vegetables, and other important nutrients; in other words, a diet that violates all principles of balanced and heart-healthy nutrition."
George Fodor, University of Ottawa Heart Institute

See the many health benefits of fish oil (Photo Getty Images).
 Photo, Getty Images

In the 1970s, two Danish nutritionists conceived of the idea that Greenland Inuit had a very low prevalence of heart disease. They reached the conclusion between them that the Eskimo diet of fish, large amounts of seal and whale blubber, might be giving them immunity from cardiological problems. Their published conclusion led to a general acceptance within the scientific-health community that this was indeed so.

Fish oil, deriving from the tissues of oily fish like salmon and mackerel contains omega-3 fatty acids, thought by an aggregate of health specialists world-wide to benefit various body functions, the heart in particular. Unfortunately, Hans Olaf Bang and Jorn Dyerberg, the two Danish nutritionists, never actually went to the trouble of proving their hypothesis that Inuit presented with low incidents of heart disease. No cardiological tests were conducted.

But the die was cast, so to speak, and a new industry wholly devoted to the promotion of the benefits of fish oil supplements was born. Along with that industry, governments, health scientists, nutritionists all surrendered to the 'truth' of fish oil having huge health benefits, and in their turn promoted diets consisting of a focus on fish and its benefits to human health. People with hypertension were urged to enjoy at least two meals per week of fish for maximum benefit.

Arctic char is similar to salmon and trout
Arctic Char, Jim Gaither, US Fish and Wildlife Service, license public domain
image credit - Jim Gaither; US Fish and Wildlife Service; license - public domain

Writing in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, Dr. Fodor and his investigative team reviewed forty years of allied studies consisting of five thousand articles on the cardiovascular health of Canadian and American Inuit and the Eskimos of Greenland. Some of those studies found low heart disease rates in this select population, while most concluded the prevalence of coronary artery disease is either much the same as that of non-Inuits or even greater.

But the larger reality this research team discovered was that Inuit, in fact, suffer more from heart disease than do non-Inuit, according to Dr. Fodor, the lead author of the article they titled "Fishing" for the Origins of the "Eskimos and Heart Disease" Story: Facts or Wishful Thinking? Indeed, writes Dr. Fodor, the "Eskimo diet" represents a formula leading to ill health.

Turns out Dr. Fodor and his colleagues are not alone in their revolutionary nutritional thinking. In 2012, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association determined the use of fish oil supplements does not reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes. Perhaps it did not have a wide enough audience; perhaps the believers outranked the skeptics.

A recent study in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia reached the conclusion that fish oil supplements, when taken daily were "associated with better performance on standard tests of memory and thinking abilities over time, compared to those who didn't take supplements". Who knows? Is there more wishful thinking than actual science in these conclusions?

In his just-published article, Dr. Fodor carefully avoids stating categorically that fish oils have no health benefits whatever relating to cardiovascular health or any other benefits to the human mechanical system. His point is to stress only that the very particular claims relating directly to heart-health are "based on a hypothesis that was questionable from the beginning."

So, no doubt Health Canada's Food Guide will continue recommending at least two fish servings weekly for optimum health benefits, and the European Society of Cardiology and the European Society of Hypertension will continue advising patients with hypertension to eat fish at least two times weekly.

There they go again, studying sacred cows with no basis in reality. We have faith, like the religious who occupy Sunday's pews, in health science conclusions however attained for we harbour a visceral need of assurances that we will live to a ripe old age exercising commonsense precautions in our diet.

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