Omega-3s and COVID?

The COVID pandemic and the allure of a miracle pill

Paul Greenberg

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The omega-3 industry is in a lather. Again. Two years into a global COVID pandemic, a new crop of studies are coming to fruition that posit that omega-3 fatty acids, derived primarily from the “reduction” of small pelagic fish, “could be a potential antimicrobial drug with little potential for drug resistance.” Other hypotheses abound. “Due to its anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and other various beneficial properties,” one study suggests, “omega-3 fatty acids could play a role as a healthier choice of supplement during this ongoing pandemic situation.”

Having written an entire book on omega-3 fatty acids and having gone on an all fish diet for a year, I’d like to think there was something in all of this. I continue to regard omega-3s with curiosity, knowing full well that these molecules’ compicated pathways in the body often elude our ability to track and trace what nutrients actually do to us on a molecular level.

Omega-3s do something in our bodies — and probably something important. But without the larger context of the marine organisms that contain them, omega-3s get lost in the noise of human metabolism and modern marketing.

At the same time, having seen up close how the omega-3 industry makes use of medical studies I hesitate to ring any bells announcing omega-3s as a COVID fixer.

This has to do primarily with the more classic claims of the omega-3 industry with regards to heart attack, stroke and coronary artery disease. In 2018 Cochrane, an organization that compiles and evaluates medical research for the general public, released a meta-analysis — a study of studies — to determine whether or not omega-3 pills, one of the world’s most popular dietary supplements, reduced the risk of coronary heart disease. After comparing 79 trials involving 112,059 people, the researchers could find “little or no difference to risk of cardiovascular events, coronary heart deaths, coronary heart disease events, stroke or heart irregularities”. In 2020 Cochrane returned to the issue following the completion of two major studies. Again it concluded “As in the…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org