In 2012, researchers in Britain found that Omega 3 fish oil benefited students who struggled in schools. In fact, it helped students both concentrate better and learn more.
However, other studies didn’t confirm this result. For that reason, the original lab decided to try a replication study. In other words: they repeated what they had originally done to see if they got the same results.
Omega 3 Fish Oil: The Bad News
Nope, they didn’t help.
You can review the study here. Most impressive — and most discouraging: chart after chart and graph after graph showing no meaningful difference between the students who got Omega 3 supplements and those who didn’t.
(By the way: nobody knew who got the supplements until after the study. It was, as they say, “blind.”)
In the muted language of research, the authors conclude:
In summary, this study did not replicate the original findings of significant, positive effects of omega-3 DHA on either learning or behavior. No systematic adverse effects from the supplementation were observed. As such the study does not provide supporting evidence for the benefits of this safe nutritional intervention.
Alas, this easy solution simply doesn’t pan out.
The Good News
The system worked.
When researchers come across a positive finding, they should both spread the news and double check their work.
That is, they should let us know that omega 3 fish oil might be beneficial, and run the study again to be sure.
Of course, replicating a study is expensive and time consuming; it’s easy to decide that other research priorities are more important.
In this case, however, the researchers did what they ought to have done. As a result, we know more than we did before. And, we’re not wasting time and money stuffing our children with needless dietary supplements.
We should all tip our hats to this research team for doing the right thing. I don’t doubt they’re disappointed, but they’ve shown themselves to be a real model for research probity.
(For another example of researchers sharing conflicting results, see this story from last October.)
PS: After I finished writing this post, I came across another article about fish. It might not help with working memory, but it just might help prevent MS.