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Vitamin D and Fish Oil Supplements May Not Be as Effective as You Think, According to New Study

Vitamin D and Fish Oil Supplements May Not Be as Effective as You Think, According to New Study


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Just how helpful is taking that daily vitamin, anyway?

Research from a five-year, government-funded study on the benefits of fish oil and Vitamin D supplementation were recently published with mixed results. The two studies were presented at The American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions and released to the public through The New England Journal of Medicine.

“Overall they showed that neither fish oil nor Vitamin D actually lowered the incidence of heart disease or cancer,” said Dr. Lawrence Fine, chief of the clinical application and prevention branch of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, told NPR.

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The study, funded by National Institutes of Health, split 26,000 healthy adults aged 50 and older, with no prior history of cancer or heart disease into groups. One group was given 1g of fish oil and 2,000 units of Vitamin D-3, and a second was given placebo pills for both. Others were given either a fish oil pill and a placebo for Vitamin D-3 or a Vitamin D-3 pill and a placebo for fish oil. Five years later, researchers were unable to find an apparent link to either supplement preventing heart disease or cancer.

Looking for more ways to eat salmon?

However, you may not want to throw away your supplements yet. A secondary analysis of fish oil supplements showed they can potentially lower heart attack risk by 28 percent. The percentage was even higher for African Americans, who made up 20 percent of study participants, with a 77 percent lowered risk.

JoAnn Manson, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, referred to this as a “statistically significant” finding, but plans to continue analyzing data from these findings with her colleagues and look for possible benefits from supplementing diets with fish oil and Vitamin D.

"At this point, if one is thinking about supplementation, either omega-3s or vitamin D, talking to your physician or health care provider is the next step," Fine said.

While the verdict is still out on the true benefits of these supplements, Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D are essential nutrients for our bodies and can be obtained in other ways. Several strong sources of Omega-3s are fatty fish, flax and chia seeds, and walnuts. Vitamin D can be obtained through sunlight, fatty fish, and fortified juices, cereals, and dairy products.


Why You Don&rsquot Need to Take Fish Oil Supplements

Maybe we haven&rsquot struck oil after all. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements were thought to deliver the same cancer-fighting, heart-saving, brain-preserving benefits as real fish&mdashbut without the stinky hassle.

That&rsquos why, when these dietary supplements hit the U.S. market, we were immediately hooked. Today, in fact, fish oil outranks herbal supplements in popularity among American men.

Unfortunately, there may now be a catch. While research in the 1990s initially suggested benefits from dietary fish oil supplementation, new studies&mdashincluding several high-profile reviews published in trusted journals&mdashno longer support many of the original health claims.

The Health Effects Of Fish

The Bible has anecdotes of people using fish gallbladders to treat blindness. The Spaniards believed fish bile cured madness. And when your grandpa was a pup, he probably had to swallow cod-liver oil to prevent rickets, a bone disorder caused by vitamin deficiency.

Research into the protective health effects of oily fish began around the 1970s, when scientists homed in on polyunsaturated fat intake. That&rsquos when a landmark study from Denmark revealed low rates of coronary artery disease and diabetes among indigenous Greenlanders with a fish-rich diet.

From that point on, the scientific community quickly began building a case for the link between fish consumption and good health.

Later research identified the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA, primarily) as the beneficial silver bullet these are found in high concentrations in such oily fish as sardines, mackerel, and herring. The findings implied that omega-3s from fish lowered blood levels of triglycerides, potentially reducing the risk of conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Additional data over the ensuing decades appeared to support these claims, and by the mid-1990s, the American Heart Association was all in. In 1994, it staged a conference about the therapeutic benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Supplement companies took notice.

The Great American Shortcut

Americans really don&rsquot do oily fish. Average intake of omega-3-rich fish among U.S. men is a measly 1.4 ounces a week, a 2014 Nutrition Journal study found. Some guys may not like the taste others might think fish is too expensive, too smelly, or too complicated to cook.

So the supplement industry, sensing an untapped market, decided to address those concerns. The result: a convenient capsule that delivered the goods in one easy swallow. Later the formula was refined to eliminate the fish burps of early omega-3 supplements.

Supplement producers started sending out fleets of warship-size trawlers to harvest omega-3-rich fish. They brought in lobbyists to push legislation that would codify the benefits of fish oil into federal product labeling guidance. Those efforts proved so successful that by 2004, the FDA allowed dietary fish oil supplement labels to state that the capsules may reduce coronary heart disease risk.

The government&rsquos optimism remained guarded, however the FDA stated that the research was &ldquonot conclusive.&rdquo But that disclaimer did little to stem the tide of American consumers hungry for omega-3s in a capsule&mdashor companies that were eager to deliver it to them.

What the Original Research Missed

When you look at the entirety of omega-3 research, one thing sticks out: Most of the data on the benefits of omega-3s came from studies that looked at consumption of fish, not fish oil supplements. Only recently have the supplements been studied in a more comprehensive way, and the results raise worrisome questions.

One concern is that over-the-counter supplements may not deliver the fish oil dosage promised on the label. In fact, of 32 commercially available supplements analyzed by researchers in Australia and New Zealand in 2014, only three had levels of EPA and DHA equal to or greater than those advertised on the label. What&rsquos more, two-thirds of the research samples contained less than 67 percent of the EPA and DHA advertised.

So how does this happen? Scientists speculate that in the production process, fish oil may become exposed to the air. This exposure can result in oxidization, reducing the total EPA and DHA concentration of the oil. In fact, some liquid gels contain additional flavorings meant to mask the telltale rancid odor of oxidized fish oil, according to a 2014 report published by Consumer Lab.

&ldquoFish oils, like any nutritional supplement, are not regulated by the FDA the way prescription drugs are, so you can never be quite sure of what you&rsquore getting,&rdquo says James Stein, M.D., a professor of cardiovascular research at the University of Wisconsin. That doesn&rsquot necessarily mean they&rsquore dangerous it just means you might not be getting all you&rsquove paid for.

&ldquoThese labels can be confusing,&rdquo says R. Preston Mason, Ph.D., who researches omega-3s at Brigham and Women&rsquos Hospital. &ldquoThey make it sound as though dietary fish oil supplements are some sort of approved omega-3 fatty acid medication, but they&rsquore not. They&rsquore not intended to prevent or treat disease.&rdquo

The FDA has approved high-dose prescription omega-3 fatty acid products for reducing very high triglyceride levels in adults. &ldquoDietary supplement fish oils are not equivalent to nor should they be used in lieu of prescription omega-3 fatty acid products,&rdquo Mason adds.

And even if your supplement does deliver the right dose, you may not be receiving all the promised health benefits.

Yes, some smaller studies have revealed heart health benefits, but the bulk of the research has yet to prove that nonprescription supplements can reduce the risk of cardiovascular-related death, delay cognitive decline, ease depression, or prevent prostate cancer&mdashfour of the most promising claims regarding omega-3s.

&ldquoMany of fish oil&rsquos earlier touted benefits have not been replicated in large randomized controlled clinical trials,&rdquo says MH advisor P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. &ldquoThe hype exceeds the science.&rdquo

What Should You Do Now?

More long-term research is needed to see if over-the-counter omega-3 supplementation can live up to the buzz. For now, if you want the preventive benefits of omega-3s, especially for your heart, your best bet is to eat real fish.

&ldquoStudies show that generally healthy people who eat more fish and have good blood levels of omega-3s have a lower risk of fatal heart disease,&rdquo says Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University. Omega-3 effects in controlled trials include several benefits: improved heart rate, enhanced blood vessel function, and greater oxygen flow to the heart itself.

Plus, fish is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and it&rsquos lower in calories than many other protein-rich foods. &ldquoFish is more than just omega-3s,&rdquo Dr. Mozaffarian says. &ldquoIt also contains zinc, important amino acids, and vitamin D.&rdquo


Vitamin D and Omega 3 supplements do not reduce risk of systemic inflammation: study

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Vitamin D and marine omega-3 fatty acids—also known as fish oil—are purported to have many health benefits, including reducing systemic inflammation. Signals of systemic inflammation are tied to diseases of aging and obesity, including cardiovascular disease, heart failure, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus, some cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. While many consumers take supplements with the intention of lowering their inflammation and preventing disease, an analysis of the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL) by investigators at Brigham and Women's Hospital indicates that neither vitamin D nor omega-3s were effective at reducing systemic inflammation. The team's results are published in Clinical Chemistry.

"People commonly think that these supplements can prevent inflammatory diseases, but when a patient asks their doctor, 'Should I take this supplement?' doctors often don't know what to advise because there haven't been large scale clinical trials. VITAL provides a large dataset to address these questions," said corresponding author Karen Costenbader, MD, MPH, director of the Lupus Program in the Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation and Immunity. "In this case, there isn't a strong message that either supplement will reduce risk of systemic inflammation, at least not the biomarkers of disease."

The VITAL study is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which investigators tested the effects of supplements of vitamin D (2000 IU/day), omega 3s (1 gm/day) or both. For this analysis, Costenbader and colleagues tested levels of three known biomarkers of inflammation at the start of the trial and after one year of taking supplements or a placebo. They were interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-receptor 2, and high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP).

The team found that neither supplement reduced the biomarkers at one year. Surprisingly, among those taking the vitamin D supplement, instead of decreasing, IL-6 levels rose by 8.2 percent. The investigators also report that among participants who had lower fish intake at the start of the trial, hsCRP levels did decline for those taking the omega-3 supplement.

The authors note that they analyzed biomarkers for only a subgroup of the original trial's population—approximately 1,500 of the over 25,000 participants—but they carefully selected a representative sample. In addition, VITAL only tested one formulation each of vitamin D and omega-3 supplements. A multitude of supplements are available.

"While the bottom line is that we didn't see a reduction in markers of inflammation for those who took either supplement, we did see that people whose fish intake was low at baseline had a reduction in one of the biomarkers of inflammation," said Costenbader. "It will be interesting and important to see the results of future VITAL analyses, especially those that look at risk of diseases rather than biomarkers."


Trial concludes vitamin D and fish oil don't lower incidences of heart disease or cancer

The findings of one of the largest placebo-controlled trials into the beneficial effects of vitamin D and fish oil ever conducted have just been published and, despite some hyperbolic media releases, the overall results found both supplements were no better than the placebo in lowering incidences of cancer or cardiovascular events.

The rigorous and well designed trial started with over 25,000 healthy subjects over the age of 50. Each participant was randomly, and blindly, assigned one of four daily combinations: 2,000 units of vitamin D and 1 gram of fish oil, the vitamin D and a placebo, the fish oil and a placebo, or two placebos.

The study followed the subjects for over five years, tracking the onset of major cardiovascular events or invasive cancers, and the results will certainly disappoint anyone with a stake in these supplements. The conclusion of the omega-3 study was, "Supplementation with n−3 fatty acids did not result in a lower incidence of major cardiovascular events or cancer than placebo." The conclusion of the vitamin D study was pretty much the same, "Supplementation with vitamin D did not result in a lower incidence of invasive cancer or cardiovascular events than placebo."

However, digging into the more granular detail in the study reveals some specific findings that some researchers are pushing to the foreground. JoAnn Manson, one of the key researchers on the study, focuses on two specific secondary datapoints suggesting, "omega-3s were associated with a reduction in risk of heart attacks across our study population, especially among participants who had lower than average fish intake," and vitamin D could be associated with lower rates of cancer deaths starting from one to two years into the study.

In an editorial accompanying the dual studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, John F. Keaney and Clifford J. Rosen suggest "these "positive" results need to be interpreted with caution. As well as noting, in regards to the fish oil conclusion, that these positive results have not been consistently observed across other large omega-3 trials, Kearney and Rosen offer a reminder that, "medical literature is replete with exciting secondary end points that have failed when they were subsequently formally tested as primary end points in adequately powered randomized trials."

Jane Armitage, from the University of Oxford, also questions the veracity of some of these secondary conclusions, suggesting while "they did see fewer heart attacks among those taking the fish oils," there was also no overall effect seen on all other cardiovascular events, so this needs to be interpreted cautiously.

In many ways this research seems to be a perfect litmus test in how problematic the reporting of scientific research can be. The headline on the research from the Washington Post is, "Fish-oil drugs protect heart health, two studies say," while the New York Times reports the exact same research with the headline, "Vitamin D and Fish Oils Are Ineffective for Preventing Cancer and Heart Disease."

Neither headline is specifically incorrect, however it may be slightly disingenuous to concentrate on a particular study's secondary effect when the overall primary finding was negative. The press release from Brigham and Women's Hospital does nothing to avoid such cherrypicking, leading with the subtitle "Findings show omega-3 fatty acids reduced risk of heart attacks, especially among African Americans vitamin D reduced cancer deaths over time."

Again, these statements are not technically incorrect, but they are certainly not in line with the researcher's own published journal conclusions that clearly state both high-dose vitamin D and omega-3 supplementation do not reduce the incidence of cancer or major cardiovascular events.

The omega-3 study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, as was the vitamin D study .


Fish oil may not be as healthy as you think, new study suggests

Fish oil has often been touted as an important part of a healthy diet, regularly praised for its numerous benefits. However, new research suggests that consistent fish oil consumption could lead to serious liver problems.

The study, conducted by a group of international scientists and recently published in "The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry" found that long-term intake of sunflower or fish oils damages the liver, potentially causing alterations, which give rise to liver disease. Referred to as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the form of liver disease is serious and unrelated to alcohol consumption, worsening as an individual ages.

"[Our research] demonstrates that fat accumulates in the liver with age, but the most striking finding is that the type of fat accumulated differs depending on the oils consumed and this means that, regardless of this accumulation, some livers age in a healthier way than others and with a greater or lesser predisposition to certain diseases," Dr. José Luis Quiles Morales, who co-authored the study and works as a professor of physiology at the University of Granada in Spain, told Science Daily.

Scientists behind the study examined how the long-term consumption of different dietary fat sources such as olive, sunflower and fish oils affects the liver of rats. As part of the comprehensive study, the researchers carried out a complete analysis of the liver genome, aiming to establish how it evolved in line with a rat's consumption of different oils.

They looked at three types of oil: virgin olive oil, sunflower oil and fish oils. According to their findings, virgin olive oil proved to be the best at preserving the liver.

Fish oil, on the other hand, increased oxidation of the liver associated with aging, reduced mitochondrial electron transport chain activity and changed the relative length of telomeres (chromosomes whose length can affect aging in cells and cause cancer).

Sunflower oil was also demonstrated to cause negative effects.

"The alterations caused by the long-term consumption of sunflower and fish oils make the liver susceptible to NASH," Morales told The Daily Mail. He also warned that NASH is a "very serious disease that may act as a catalyst for other liver diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer."

Although many nutritionists have classified fish oil as a super food and it has been previously linked to health benefits, this isn't the first time scientists have suggested it may not be so great.

Previous research has suggested taking fish oil supplements can lower the risk of death from heart disease, while others have found no benefit. A recently published review of data from 10 studies involving a total of nearly 78,000 people, revealed that patients regularly taking fish oil supplements were just as likely to experience a stroke or heart attack within a four year period of time as those who did not, according to Live Science.

Dr. Howard LeWine, chief medical editor at Harvard Health Publishing, wrote in a 2013 blog post that he believes the evidence for fish oils' benefits and risks will be a topic of debate for the foreseeable future.

"Experts will surely remain divided on their opinions about fish oil supplements for the general population. And don't expect any clarity about what to do any time soon. I expect other studies with flip-flopping results in the future," he wrote.

For now, Morales suggests those concerned for their liver stick to consuming virgin olive oil instead of the other alternatives.

"Virgin olive oil is the healthiest option," the researcher said, explaining that it "has already been proven in relation to diverse aspects of health."


5 Supplements You Should Avoid At All Costs Because They Aren’t As Healthy As They Seem

While a well-balanced diet is the best way to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need to support your body, sometimes there are gaps to be filled — that’s where supplements come in. Supplements are known for providing your body with important nutritional benefits that you can’t always gather from food or your environment, an addition which can be helpful in maximizing your overall health. However, the caveat to supplements is that not all of them are actually good for you. A medical expert weighs in on which supplements to avoid, and which ones should be taken with caution.

The first supplement which should be taken with care, according to Benjamin Todd Thatcher, Chief Medical Officer at Valley Behavioral Health, is calcium. While calcium is valuable for increasing bone strength, Thatcher notes, &ldquoIn the aged body, calcium affects the artery walls instead of making the bones stronger, which in turn can lead to heart disease.&rdquo If you&rsquore concerned about your heart health at all, speak to your doctor before including calcium or any supplement into your diet.

Vitamin C, which can be found naturally in citrus fruits and kale, is a wonderful nutrient that can help repair tissue in the body and boost your immune system to aid in illness prevention. However, Thatcher warns, &ldquoExcess intake in [Vitamin C] can also lead to the risk of kidney stones. It is advisable to take it with moderation.&rdquo As with all good things, moderation is key, so check to see how much Vitamin C you actually need before inhaling your gummy vitamins.

Multivitamins

Multivitamins claim to provide a wide range of nutrients in order to fill any gaps within your diet and treat any deficiencies. But Thatcher warns that they are largely synthetic, and you would be better off getting your nutrients through a higher intake of vegetables instead. A study for Johns Hopkins determined that while many people depend on multivitamins to support their health, there has been no research to show that multivitamins actually reduce risk of disease or cancer, nor does it help support your mental health in any way.

Fish oil, which is loaded with Omega-3, is said to provide your body with fatty acid which protects your heart health and aids in brain function. And while fatty acid is good for your body in moderate doses, fish oil supplements may not be the best means of consuming this nutrient. Thatcher explains that in excess, fish oil can lead to stomach bleeding, as well as nausea and other digestion issues. A study for Harvard Medical School notes that it&rsquos best to try to get your fish oil from actual fish, rather than a supplement, for maximum benefit.

This supplement is most commonly taken to improve the strength of your teeth and bones, claiming to prevent osteoporosis and consumed in supplement form because it is extremely difficult to get enough in your diet. But while the benefits sound promising, studies have emerged suggesting that low doses of Vitamin D may not actually prevent bone breakage, and high doses can have an adverse effect on your kidney, causing muscle and abdominal pain, as well as even potentially raising your risk of stroke.

Physician, scientist and author, Dr. William W. Li, MD explains, "If you take too much Vitamin D, it can cause a problem called &lsquohypervitaminosis D&rsquo which leads to the buildup of calcium in your body. Too much calcium can cause bone pain and kidney stones which may require medical treatment." However, he notes that as a Vitamin D deficiency is common, if you need to depend on the supplement, make sure to stay within the daily dosage, between 600-800 IU (internation unit) per day.

While supplements can be fantastic to fill in the holes of your diet, you&rsquore better off trying to diversify your meals before you look towards the alternatives. Your body will always be better off getting the most natural form of a nutrient, so if you&rsquore considering adding a supplement into your routine, it&rsquos best to check with a doctor first to make sure you won&rsquot be doing more harm than good.


One Major Side Effect of Taking Fish Oil, Says New Study

What supplement bottles do you see when you open your medicine cabinet? Maybe you have fish oil for reduced risk of heart disease, probiotics for gut health maintenance, and vitamin D for a strong immune system. According to new research, those fish oil pills may actually be a waste of money.

A new study conducted by scientists at the University of Georgia suggests that taking fish oil daily could only be effective if you have the right genetic makeup. The study, which was published in the journal PLOS Genetics, included data from 70,000 people who were participants in a large-scale cohort study called U.K. Biobank, which collected genetic and health information from 500,000 participants.

In the sample, the researchers examined four blood lipids—high-density lipoprotein (HDL, aka healthy cholesterol), low-density lipoprotein (LDL, aka unhealthy cholesterol), total cholesterol, and triglycerides—all of which are biomarkers for heart disease. The most shocking finding was that a fish supplement may heighten the risk of heart disease in some individuals. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now).

"We’ve known for a few decades that a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood is associated with a lower risk of heart disease," Kaixiong Ye, lead study author and assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement.

"What we found is that fish oil supplementation is not good for everyone it depends on your genotype," Ye added. "If you have a specific genetic background, then fish oil supplementation will help lower your triglycerides. But if you do not have that right genotype, taking a fish oil supplement actually increases your triglycerides."

The data sample was divided into two groups: those who took fish oil supplements (which was about 11,000) and those who did not. The researchers then performed a genome-wide scan for each group, which involved testing for 8 million genetic variants. Sixty-four million tests later, the results showed a significant genetic variant in the GJB2 gene. Those who took fish oil and had the AG genotype experienced a decrease in their triglyceride levels, whereas individuals with the AA genotype who took the supplement had a slight increase in their levels.

Previous clinical trials have indicated that fish oil isn't effective at preventing heart disease, which Ye believes may have to do with the absence of genotype consideration. But this new study pinpointed a specific gene that can modify a person's response to fish oil supplementation.

"Personalizing and optimizing fish oil supplementation recommendations based on a person's unique genetic composition can improve our understanding of nutrition," Ye said in the press release, "and lead to significant improvements in human health and well-being."

In the interim, why not stick to incorporating more heart-healthy fish like salmon and mackerel into your diet once or twice a week? Your heart could benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids that are rich in these food sources. For more, be sure to read These Two Supplements May Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk, New Study Says.


This is Why You Should Stop Spending Money on Vitamin D and Fish Oil

People commonly take supplements to slow aging and ward off illness, but if you're banking on vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids to prevent a stroke or cancer, it's time to save your money. Now, the largest clinical trial conducted on these supplements concluded that neither are effective in stopping cancer or heart-related conditions.

For years, research indicated that people with low levels of vitamin D or those who eat less fish may be at greater risk for developing heart problems or cancer. But these studies were mostly observational, meaning researchers simply spotted patterns in a sample of people. This new data comes from a controlled clinical trial where nearly 26,000 people received either the supplements or a placebo. Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the paper concluded that omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D weren't any better than placebos in preventing cancer or cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks, strokes or death from heart-related problems.

Although the study authors concluded that vitamin D and fish oil were useless in preventing cancer or overall cardiovascular disease, they did find that omega-3 fatty acids may lower risk of heart attack by 28 percent in healthy adults. And they saw that African-Americans who took daily omega-3 fatty acids reduced their risk of heart attack by 77 percent.

So with that positive news, why are the supplements still considered unhelpful? Dr. Clifford Rosen, M.D. of the Maine Medical Research Center explains to MensHealth.com that you can't just slice that good news out of this data and act on it.

It comes down to "a whole different statical approach," Rosen explains. The study was designed to look at major cardiovascular events, which includes a variety of conditions like heart attack or stroke. But when you start pulling out separate cardiovascular conditions, like heart attacks only, an entirely different statistical analysis and testing needs to be done, he says.

"It should be tested in a larger formalized trial," he explains. "It may have some possibilities. I think the fish oil is still up in the air," Rosen says.

Not so for D. In an accompanying editorial, Rosen said he thinks the door is closed for that vitamin. In other words, it's not worth taking if you're worried about heart-related conditions and cancer, which is what this study investigated. But there's a chance it could be helpful for other diseases that haven't been studied so carefully yet.

What if you've had your D levels tested and they're low? You might need further testing more than you need a supplement. Rosen believes doctors should consider whether other health conditions, such as bowel or liver diseases, may be the root of low vitamin D levels.

Instead of either supplement, Rosen advises everyone to focus on the science-backed pillars of good health: exercise and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and yes, fish.


The 8 Best Dopamine Supplements of 2021, According to a Dietitian

Ashley Hall is a writer and fact checker who has been published in multiple medical journals in the field of surgery.

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products you can learn more about our review process here . We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

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Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, dopamine is involved in reward and motivation. Once a behavior or substance is identified as pleasurable, dopamine will be released, signaling reward, thus helping us learn to repeat certain behaviors. Interestingly, dopamine can be released even in anticipation of a pleasurable event.

Dopamine is often increased by drugs of abuse as well as behavioral addictions and is frequently examined in addiction research. Low levels of dopamine are linked to reduced motivation and feelings of pleasure. In addition to reward and motivation, dopamine plays an important role in the coordination of body movements. Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disease that results in tremors and motor movement impairments, is caused by the loss of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain.

A well-balanced diet, plenty of sleep, physical activity, and interventions to moderate stress will help support dopamine production. The research to support specific supplementation for dopamine is limited however, there are supplements you can take to support overall health. It is always important to consult with your healthcare provider before supplementing.


Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Fish Oil Supplements – Prevent Psychotic Disorder?

New research has found that adolescents with higher levels of an omega-3 fatty acid in their blood were less likely to develop psychotic disorder in early adulthood, suggesting that it may have a potential preventative effect of reducing the risk of psychosis.

The study, led by researchers from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, is published in Translational Psychiatry.

Over 3,800 individuals in Bristol’s Children of the 90s health study were assessed for psychotic disorder, depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder at age 17 and at age 24.

During these assessments, blood samples were collected, and the researchers measured the levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which generally increase inflammation in the body, and omega-3 fatty acids, which generally reduce inflammation.


New research has found that adolescents with higher levels of an omega-3 fatty acid in their blood were less likely to develop psychotic disorder in early adulthood, suggesting that it may have a potential preventative effect of reducing the risk of psychosis. Credit: RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

While there was little evidence that fatty acids were associated with mental disorders at age 17, the researchers found that 24 year olds with psychotic disorder, depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder had higher levels of omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids compared to those without these disorders.

The researchers also found that 24 year olds with psychotic disorder had lower levels of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid typically found in oily fish or dietary supplements, than 24 year olds without psychotic disorder. In a group of over 2,700 individuals who were tracked over time, adolescents with higher levels of DHA at age 17 were 56% less likely to develop psychotic disorder seven years later at age 24. This suggests that DHA in adolescence may have a potential preventative effect of reducing the risk of psychosis in early adulthood.

These results remained consistent when accounting for other factors such as sex, body mass index, tobacco smoking, and socio-economic status.

“The study needs to be replicated, but if the findings are consistent, these results would suggest that enhanced dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids among adolescents, such as through oily fish like mackerel, could prevent some people from developing psychosis in their early twenties,” said Professor David Cotter, senior author of the study and professor molecular psychiatry at RCSI.

“The results could also raise questions about the relationship between the development of mental health disorders and omega-6 fatty acids, which are typically found in vegetable oils.”

David Mongan, RCSI PhD student and Irish Clinical Academic Training (ICAT) Fellow, analyzed the data with the supervision of Professor David Cotter and Professor Mary Cannon from the RCSI Department of Psychiatry. The ICAT program is supported by the Wellcome Trust and the Health Research Board, the Health Service Executive National Doctors Training and Planning and the Health and Social Care, Research and Development Division, Northern Ireland.

“We need to do more research to learn about the mechanisms behind this effect, but it could possibly be related to reducing inflammation or decreasing inappropriate pruning of brain connections during adolescence,” said Dr. David Mongan, the study’s first author, who is a psychiatry trainee and PhD student at RCSI.

Reference: “Plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids and mental disorders in adolescence and early adulthood: cross-sectional and longitudinal associations in a general population cohort” by David Mongan, Colm Healy, Hannah J. Jones, Stan Zammit, Mary Cannon and David R. Cotter, 31 May 2021, Translational Psychiatry.
DOI: 10.1038/s41398-021-01425-4

This research was supported in part by a research grant from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund. The UK Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol provided core support for Children of the 90s, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). The data collection used in this research was joint-funded by the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust.

About RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences is a world-leading university for Good Health and Well-being. Ranked second in the world for its contribution to UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021, it is exclusively focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.

RCSI is an international not-for-profit university, headquartered in Dublin. It is among the top 250 universities worldwide in the World University Rankings (2021) and its research is ranked first in Ireland for citations. RCSI has been awarded Athena Swan Bronze accreditation for positive gender practice in higher education.

Visit the RCSI MyHealth Expert Directory to find the details of our experts across a range of healthcare issues and concerns. Recognizing their responsibility to share their knowledge and discoveries to empower people with information that leads them to better health, these clinicians and researchers are willing to engage with the media in their area of expertise.

About Children of the 90s

Based at the University of Bristol, Children of the 90s, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), is a long-term health-research project that enrolled more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of the parents and their children in detail ever since and is currently recruiting the children and the siblings of the original children into the study. It receives core funding from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol.