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Fish oil won’t produce mini Einsteins: study

Read the news on any given day, and you’re bound to find a ‘dodgy supplements’ story. This time, fish oil is on the scientific chopping block. Specifically, the proposition that if women take it prenatally, it will make their kids smarter, has been debunked by researchers from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

After studying 543 children, they found that children of mothers who took fish oil supplements “consistently demonstrated no significant differences in language, academic abilities, or executive functioning” compared with the control group.

In fact, some fish oil-taking mothers in the study reported negative behaviour and executive functioning in their children.

The findings, published by JAMA, replicate those of numerous other studies.

Given this, how did the fictitious prenatal fish oil-kids’ IQ link surface? Dr Kenneth Harvey, associate professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Monash University, said that’s easy to answer: supplements companies hawked it.

He said companies like Swisse and Blackmores relied on tiny studies, which they often sponsored, to claim their products yielded such benefits.  Also, when conflicting studies were published, they simply overlooked them.

To compound this issue, there’s nothing the government could do about this, due to deficient regulatory powers over advertising.

Though that may be about to change. The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) has proposed changes to  the regulatory framework, to ensure the public is informed of which supplements are evidence-based and which aren’t.

One TGA proposal Harvey strongly agrees with is the designation of a logo, akin to the Healthy Heart Tick, on evidence-based supplements. At present, he said “the public doesn’t know” how to distinguish naturopathic facts from fads, due to an obscure labeling system.

Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman will continue to twirl a sunflower for Swisse’s sake. This is because, in Harvey’s words, such companies “get better returns from celebrities than studies”.

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