Winter 2019

Fish vs. Fish Oil

Do fish oil supplements actually help with heart health?

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Alice H. Lichtenstein, Director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory and Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, responds to a question about improving heart health.

Q: Do fish oil supplements actually help with heart health?

A: Current recommendations do not support the use of fish oil supplements to prevent heart disease in otherwise healthy adults. Early reports from a very new study suggest there may be a benefit from supplementation with one specific fatty acid found in fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid. However, those benefits are limited to individuals with very high triglyceride levels and who are otherwise at high risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

The data do support the benefits of a healthy dietary pattern that includes fish—seafood—at least twice a week. For the vast majority of people, there is little evidence that taking fish oil supplements instead of eating fish is beneficial, and by substituting fish oil so you will be losing out on some other benefits of including fish in your diet.

One of those benefits comes from eating darker-fleshed fish like salmon and trout, which contain higher amounts of heart-healthy unsaturated fats than other species. However, including any type of seafood in your diet is highly recommended if it replaces major contributors of saturated fat, such as hamburgers or a slice of quiche.

As with any effort to improve the quality of your diet, also consider the way you prepare the seafood. Avoid butter and cream sauces. Instead, use spices and herbs liberally and serve the seafood with lots of colorful vegetables, either included in the preparation of the seafood or separately.

Please send questions to Julie Flaherty, Tufts University Office of Publications, 80 George Street, Medford, Mass. 02155 or email

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