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Fish Oil Supplements Have No Effect on Anxiety and Depression, New Study Suggests

Health + Wellness
Fish Oil Supplements Have No Effect on Anxiety and Depression, New Study Suggests
Fish oil is among the most popular natural products used by American adults. Natesh Ramasamy / Flickr

Omega-3 fats found in common fish oil supplements may have little or no effect on depression and anxiety, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.


Fish oil is among the most popular natural products used by American adults with nearly 19 million turning to fish oil, omega-3 or fatty acid supplements to combat heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, dry eye symptoms and mental health effects, reports the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. However, the evidence of its effectiveness is largely inconclusive. Consuming omega-3 fats has long been touted as protection against — and in some cases reversal of — a number of conditions, including anxiety and depression, according to Medical Express.

But a systematic review of dozens of trial experiments found suggests the opposite. To come to their conclusions, researchers at the University of East Anglia in England analyzed 31 trials of adults both with and without depression and anxiety. More than 41,000 study participants were randomized to either consume more fish oils or maintain their usual intake for at least six months.

"Our previous research has shown that long-chain omega-3 supplements, including fish oils, do not protect against conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes or death," said lead study author Lee Hooper. "This large systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods. Despite all this information, we don't see protective effects.

Hopper added that the most trustworthy "studies consistently showed little or no effect of long-chain omega-3 fats on depression or anxiety" and that such supplements should not be encouraged as treatment.

That's not to say that there are no health benefits to consuming fish oils. Study co-author Katherine Dean says that oily fish can be a "very nutritious" food when consumed as part of a balanced diet. Omega-3 is a type of fat and small amounts are necessary for health, notes Technology Networks. A recent report investigated by The New York Times found that fish oil supplements may have benefits in at-risk and subset populations, but may be moot in otherwise healthy groups.

"We found that there is no demonstrable value in people taking omega-3 oil supplements for the prevention or treatment of depression and anxiety," said Dean. "Considering the environmental concerns about industrial fishing and the impact it is having on fish stocks and plastic pollution in the oceans, it seems unhelpful to continue to swallow fish oil tablets that give no benefit."

In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it did "not intend to object to the use of certain qualified health claims stating that consuming ... omega-3 fatty acids in food or dietary supplements may reduce the risk of hypertension and coronary heart disease," leaving the supplements largely unregulated at a federal level.


A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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