The following frustrating conversation happens at least twice a week at our office.
Caller on phone: “Does your fish oil reduce cholesterol?”
Me: “No…it does not. Fish oil reduces triglycerides but it doesn’t reduce cholesterol significantly…”
Caller: “I need a fish oil brand that reduces my cholesterol. Oh well, I’ll keep looking for one that does.” Click.
This is frustrating on several levels. Not because they didn’t buy our product, but because of the decades of misinformation and fears that led to this discourse.
These callers usually have tried taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs after their doctors put them on it. But the statin side effects were so severe that they’ve quit taking it and are looking for other options.
I can sense the concern and even desperation in their voices. I don’t blame them!
They have high cholesterol. But their doctor’s fix – statin drugs – caused them severe muscle pains and mental fog.
Thanks to doctors and drug companies, cholesterol scares the bejessus out of people. Every 10 years or so, the ‘normal’ cholesterol range keeps getting reduced.
So I don’t blame the callers’ fear and concern.
They’ve heard good things about fish oil so they begin looking into it. That’s when they call us.
Fish oil doesn’t decrease cholesterol!
At least not dramatically. Like your Lipitor would.
If anyone’s told you otherwise, you’ve been misled.
I see it all the time. Just last week, I read a press release about a medical doctor launching his own brand of pharmaceutical grade fish oil.
The product’s web site and the product label prominently claimed their product would “lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.”
What the science says…
An analysis of 47 clinical trials showed that taking fish oils (about 3,000 mg of Omega-3 per day) showed the following results:
Published in the International Journal of Cardiology.
Some people notice a slight lowering of cholesterol after they start taking fish oil or krill oil.
Sure, Omega-3 tends to straighten things out in your metabolism a little bit. You might see a temporary 5 to 10% reduction if you’re lucky.
More often than not, the reduction is correlation and not causation.
Correlation, not causation
In other words, one does not cause the other, but the two are related. (Think ice cream and drowning. A few decades ago, some poindexter figured out that whenever ice cream sales went up, there was increased drowning in pools. He concluded that some protein in ice cream caused people to pass out while swimming. Folks panicked! Well, turns out that people eat ice cream when it’s hot and also go swimming when it’s hot. It was the hot weather-related swimming. Ice cream had nothing to do with it!)
Anyway, when people start taking fish oil, they’re generally concerned about health. They cut out junk food, sodas and cookies. This change in diet and lifestyle is the likely cause of lower cholesterol.
DHA Omega-3 increases both HDL and LDL
As a matter of fact, there is some research that shows that high DHA Omega-3 consumption can actually INCREASE your LDL cholesterol by about 10 to 15%. This is why the new triglyceride lowering drugs made from fish oil, like Amarin’s AMR-101, is all EPA. These new triglyceride-lowering drugs (not yet on the market) contain little or no DHA.
People are scared of LDL cholesterol.
Prescription Lovaza comes with a warning that it could increase LDL cholesterol.
So should you stop taking fish oil because of DHA? Good God, no!
LDL cholesterol is not all bad!
LDL has very important repair functions in your body and it is critical in maintaining your immunity. Simply calling LDL “bad” is silly. And avoiding DHA because it can raise LDL a tiny bit is even sillier.
The point I’m making is that fish oil may not reduce your cholesterol. But that is absolutely no reason not to take fish oil!
You take Omega-3 to:
- Help your body function well.
- Offset the inflammation caused by too much Omega-6 from vegetable oils.
The fact that it does not reduce cholesterol SHOULD NOT be a reason not to take Omega-3 supplements or eat fish.
Omega-3 reduces risk of death from cardiovascular causes by between 30 to 50%.
The Italian GISSI study says taking just 850 mg of EPA DHA Omega-3 per day showed a dramatic reduction of sudden death.
This risk reduction isn’t from cholesterol reduction.
The risk reduction comes from:
- reduction in triglycerides
- reduction in inflammation
- providing antiarrhythmic properties
- improved endothelial function
Keeping with the fish theme here, not taking fish oil because it does not reduce cholesterol is like judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree.
I think Einstein put it a little more eloquently…
Parting shot…this is comedy with an important message:
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About the Author: Vin Kutty is OmegaVia’s Scientific Advisor and Chief Blogger. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with over 20 years of experience. Email him.