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There’s something fishy going on

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When a paper in a major mainstream journal comes out against omega-3 fish oils, my eyebrows rise. Especially when the paper says they have no protective effect against heart attacks and other forms of heart disease – the Western world’s biggest killers and massive money spinners for Big Pharma – as a new meta-analysis (pooled analysis) published in JAMA Cardiology concluded.1

As I scan the methodology, I’m struck by the fact that the paper only evaluates 10 previous trials, when there have been more than 10 times this number that could be deemed relevant. I then look at the results, and my eyebrows go up another notch: the results of the individual trials, involving a total just under 78,000 people, are predominantly positive, not negative, as the headline results suggest. The overall data presented just don’t mesh with the final conclusion of no effect.

Looking deeper, I see the effects from three big trials showing negative effects. Yes, these trials did involve large numbers of people, but they also used ridiculously low doses.

So, abracadabra – combine all of the trials together in a meta-analysis, and you cancel out the positive effects and find a way of showing no effect. OK, it’s a bit more complex than that, but that’s the gist.

I then found myself thinking: what’s the motive? There are two more areas that need looking at. One is the authorship, the other is the funding.

One name leaps out at me in the string of 16 names replete with MDs and PhDs that comprise the list of authors: Professor (Sir) Rory Collins, a very high-profile Oxford University epidemiologist who has been at the heart (excuse the pun) of the global statins-for-everyone-over-50 campaign.

Collins has clearly influenced the manuscript, including the name given to the 16-author collaboration: the Omega-3 Treatment Trialists’ Collaboration. Collins famously established the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ Collaboration, which has been accused of playing up supposed benefits of statins while ignoring evidence of harm.

And what about funding? Well that comes from the British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council. While the paper states that the Oxford University unit, where the Omega-3 Treatment Trialists’ Collaboration secretariat was located, “has a policy of not accepting fees, honoraria or paid consultancies directly or indirectly from any industry,” such “fees, honoraria or paid consultancies” wouldn’t necessarily be paid through the unit. What if they came through some other route?

Looking at the latest annual report of the charity, it’s impossible to determine whether Pharma donates directly to the British Heart Foundation, as there’s just a global figure given for donations and legacies. If you thought charities were transparent, think again.

Bottom line? It’s highly likely that Pharma does donate, and several authors who are part of the Omega-3 Treatment Trialists’ Collaboration disclose that they have derived benefit from Pharma one way or another.

The most disturbing thing about a paper like this omega-3 study is that it was designed to fail. It’s up there with other studies of studies – meta-analyses and systematic reviews – where tight selection criteria have been used to effectively ‘cherry pick’ trials that, when amalgamated, show zero positive effect, or worse, a negative effect. These ‘designed to fail’ trials have been used previously to attack multivitamins, vitamin E, beta-carotene and folic acid.

If it wasn’t so serious it would be laughable, given that most of these trials have been funded by Pharma – and most have used synthetic versions of the vitamins.

There are hallmarks that are shared with the latest omega-3 meta-analysis: the doses are too low, the populations were already in bad health when the supplementation was started, the supplementation periods were too short, and the follow-up not long enough.

None of it matches with clinical experience – with the hundreds of thousands of people who have benefited from therapeutic use of these natural products. But it’s again not that simple, as Pharma has its own patented forms of the products – forms that are tampered with to win the patents justified by Big Pharma’s patent model.

The best news is that the public and astute practitioners alike are aware of Pharma’s game. My advice is to keep taking your omega-3 supplements, whether from fish oil or algae. Take them at high doses (around 2 to 5 g/day with a good mix of EPA and DHA) when you’re not eating contaminant-free oily fish, and avoid the ethyl ester forms used by Pharma and sold as prescription medicines.

Instead, use sustainable sources (such as those certified by the Marine Stewardship Council), which are guaranteed to be free of contaminants and heavy metals and contain the natural triglyceride forms that have been tampered with as little as possible.

It’s simple: nature knows best. And we’ve got a pretty good idea about the kind of fishy business Pharma is up to as well.

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Article Topics: Fish oil, Omega-3 fatty acid
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