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Does Omega-3 Work Miracles?

About twice a year I go on a health kick that lasts a few weeks. Typically this involves going for one-mile runs two or three times, doing as many push-ups as I can (about eight) every night, increasing the fiber in my diet, ramping up my carrot juice consumption, and taking whatever health pill is currently in vogue.

I’m right in the middle of my latest health kick right now. My pill of choice this time around is Omega-3 fish oil. Omega-3 is alleged to have all sorts of wonderful benefits including reducing heart disease and aiding mental function. Indeed, we have blogged about the beneficial impact of Omega-3 on prisoners twice (here and here) in the past (although because of my low Omega-3 intake prior to my latest health kick, my memory was so poor that it took Dubner to remind me of this fact).

I don’t feel any different today than I did two weeks ago when I started on Omega-3 — not that I expected to. The same cannot be said for Seth Roberts (author of the Shangri-La Diet, subject of a Freakonomics column in the New York Times, and self-experimenter extraordinaire). In two blog posts, Seth details profound and immediate impacts of Omega-3 on his balance. Every morning, for reasons I can’t pretend to understand, Seth climbs on top of his “balance-o-meter” and sees how long he can balance. After he increased his dose of Omega-3, the very next day he established a personal best on the balance-o-meter.

Could it really be the extra tablespoon of flaxseed oil (which is high in Omega-3) that did it? Seth thinks so. I’m more skeptical. An alternative explanation is that it is not the Omega-3 itself, but rather, Seth’s belief that Omega-3 will work that helps him balance. Of course, if all Seth cares about is good balance, it doesn’t really matter whether it is the Omega-3 or his belief in it.