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Just how helpful is taking that daily vitamin, anyway?

Lauren Wicks
November 12, 2018

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.

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.

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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.

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