Too Much Buzz over that Study About Eating Fish and MS?

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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Omega-3 impacts autophagy and interferon signaling in macrophages.


I’m not a fish eater. I never have been. Unless the seafood is lobster, shrimp, clams, or crab cakes (pickin’ the crabs is too much work), I’m not interested. Is the fact that I eat very little fish one of the reasons why MS attacked me about 40 years ago?

There’s been a lot of buzz about a study released earlier this month that suggests there may be some kind of association between the omega-3 fatty acids found in some fish and the likelihood of someone being diagnosed with MS. The study looked at the diets of 1,153 people with an average age of 36. About half were diagnosed with MS or clinically isolated syndrome. The other half were healthy control subjects.

Out of the half with MS, 180 reported they either ate fish at least once a week or they ate fish one to three times a month and supplemented that by taking a fish oil supplement. That was considered to be “high” fish intake. Out of the half without an MS history, 251 reported high fish intake. The researchers interpret this to indicate that high fish intake is associated with a 45 percent reduced risk of MS.

I’d like to know more, but …

The full study won’t be released until mid-April (at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology), and the news release announcing these general results of the study contained few details. For example, I’d like to know for how many years the study subjects were eating a “high” level of fish before diagnosis. And did they all eat it for the same number of years? And, how can you balance that with the control subjects cumulative intake, since there’s no pre-MS diagnosis time period with which to compare?

A lot of media outlets, ranging from websites (including this one) to local TV stations and newspapers, published or broadcast the limited information contained in the news release at face value. Did they jump the gun?

The National MS Society calls the information “intriguing.” But it also notes that an earlier study looking at whether omega-3 fatty acids impacted the disease itself was not “statistically significant.” And it cautions that too much omega-3 could impact the efficacy of some medications.

The author of the study, Dr. Annette Langer-Gould of Kaiser Permanente Southern California also emphasizes that her research “simply shows an association and not cause and effect. More research is needed to confirm the findings and to examine how omega-3 fatty acids may affect inflammation, metabolism and nerve function.”

So, let’s see what the full study reports when released in April. I don’t think there’s a need to rush to the fish market yet.

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Richard R. avatar

Richard R.

The type of fish consumed might also be significant. Certain types have higher mercury levels which might also play a role. Life is complicated!

John Barone avatar

John Barone

Can't go by me. I grew up in an Italian home, and then married an Italian American woman (Good choice for any number of reasons). So we always had a a Mediterranian diet withplenty of fish. Still at 65 I was diagnosed with primary progressive MS. On the other hand its progressing at a snail's pace so who knows.

Mike D avatar

Mike D

I have been in the medical community for over 40 yrs, have a son with MS who is a PharmD and his wife a surgeon, all of us, can read and understand a study we understand the value of omega 3s and the best way to get it eating the right fish (cold water such as salmon). This study is OLD NEWS there is tons of info about this subject, and this study is on target whether you try to pick it apart or not. There are metadata (several) studies showing the same thing. I would also bet you don't believe vitamin D plays no part either. I really am sorry you don't like fish, so don't eat fish. I really could not care less. What I do care about is you trying blow a study out of the water based on your taste buds and the potential you have for messing other people up because you didn't like what you read, because you don't like the menu.

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Dear Mike,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

My intention wasn't to knock down the study. Rather, it was to complain that there wasn't enough information contained in the news release that promoted study's presentation in April. It didn't warrant the media headlines that it received.

I use vitamin D at the suggestion of my neurologist and I believe that treatment choices, whether a DMT, exercise, a natural remedy or a diet modification, are the choice of a patient and his or her physician.

I guess I erred in trying to use a light-hearted lede to approach a serous subject. I'll consider this a lesson learned.


Jill P avatar

Jill P

I do not care for your tone Mike D. First you say you are sorry,then you say you couldn't care less. Those of us who actually have this disease have been prescribed vitamin D, and lots of it, by our Neurologist. OLD NEWS gets corrected/updated all the time, by the way..

Greg avatar


Swank studied fish consumption 40 years ago and this supports his findings.

Guy Ben-Zvi avatar

Guy Ben-Zvi

Hello Ed
I don't have MS but have quite a few friends with it. I did not study the topic deeply but I know about 10 MS people with RRMS that have been in constant remission for years (!) by implementing large dose omega 3 fish oil and going on a ketogenic high fat low carb diet. Of course you can never say the MS has been cured but the relapses have gone down from once in a few month to once in a few years, if at all.
On the contrary progressive MS friends did not see any remission, but did see an improvement in quality of life.
I'd definitely advise to try high marine omega 3 either from seafood or fish oil.


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