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Omega-3 margarines fail to help in heart study


5 Star

Omega-3 margarines fail to help in heart study

Our Review Summary

 This story reports on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found little impact from the use of omega-3 supplemented margarine.  The outcomes of the study were interpreted as suggesting that a population using optimal medical therapy does not benefit from increasing their omega-3 fatty acid levels beyond that which they get through a diet that includes fish.  Although those using supplemented margarine were seen to have higher circulating levels of the nutrient, there did not appear to be much impact on their of cardiac events.


Why This Matters

 The key quote in the story was this:

"It will be viewed as a largely negative study and people who are enthusiasts for omega fatty acids will continue to be enthusiasts and people who are skeptics will continue to be skeptics," said Scott Wright of the Mayo Clinic in the United States, who was not involved in the research.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable; the product in question is not commercially available. But why didn’t the story give us some range for comparison by giving us the price of Unilever’s existing omega-3 margarine brands?

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

We’re going to be a bit tougher on this one. The story failed to mention the benefits reported in the results section of the paper demonstrating that for those who had diabetes in addition to having had a heart attack, there did appear to be some benefit in terms of reduced incidence of coronary artery disease, death from coronary heart disease and incidence of arrhythmia.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

We always think harms should be addressed – even the absence of harms.  Consumers need to be educated that no product making health claims is cost-free or harm-free.  The story did not mention that there did not appear to be any differences among the various groups in terms of harms.  But since there were no differences, we’ll simply rule this Not Applicable.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


The story delivered a big picture overview of how the research was done – which is adequate.

It might have been interesting to report on several statistically significant findings in the results section of the paper that we were not mentioned in the abstract.  

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


 The story did not engage in overt disease mongering.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


 The story included quotes from one of the authors of the study and a clinician who was not connected with the study.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story reported that that salmon, herring and sardine are common sources of EPA-DHA, while ALA is found in some vegetables.  So alternatives were mentioned.  And it mentioned drugs like Lovaza.  There wasn’t any real comparison, but there was the following important line of context about the new study:

  • "The finding raised questions about the benefits of omega-3, which has been shown in previous studies to make for healthier hearts."

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


 The story indicated that the margarine used in the study was created for the researchers by Unilever, suggesting that they aren’t commercially available. But why not make that point explicitly?

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


 Although the product being tested was indeed novel as the story indicated, the story was reported from the standpoint of possible impact the results of the study might have on dietary recommendations or the use of n-3 fatty acid supplements.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


It’s clear the story didn’t rely solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 7 of 8 Satisfactory


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