Do fish oil supplements raise the risk of heart disease?

Executive summary

* A paper generated global headlines that taking fish oil supplements might raise the risk of heart disease and strokes.

* The paper used data from the UK Biobank study for over 400,000 people. Approximately 30% of participants took fish oil supplements regularly. These people were claimed to be more likely to develop atrial fibrillation and have a stroke (from a healthy baseline).

* The risk ratio for arial fibrillation was small. The risk ratio for stroke was not statistically significant and should not have been reported as a finding.

* There were eight findings in total. One (the atrial fibrillation claim) found against supplements; the other seven found in favour of supplements. The headlines should have been "Seven times as many associations found in favour of fish oil supplements and heart disease as against."

* The researchers needs to explain why there was one finding against and seven in favour of fish oil supplements. They made no attempt to do this.

* With clear bias in claims and without any plausible mechanism, this should be viewed as a spurious correlation and a non-sense paper.


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