Fish oil has been touted in the past for its various health benefits, and now researchers also believe that it can have a positive effect on alcoholics.

A study published in PLOS ONE shows that omega-3 fish oil could help protect excessive drinkers against the neurodamage and dementia that’s caused by alcoholism. Drinking copious amounts of alcohol over a long period of time can increase the risk for dementia, but adding a fish oil compound protects brain cells against inflammation and neuronal cell death, the researchers found.

In the study, researchers exposed adult rat brain cells to alcohol amounts equivalent to about four times the legal amount for driving. These cells were then compared to cells that had been exposed to alcohol in addition to a certain fish oil compound known as omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The study showed that the cells that had been exposed to the fish oil compound had about 90 percent less neuroinflammation and neuronal death, compared to those exposed to alcohol by itself. “Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in abusers,” Michael A. Collins, lead author of the study, said in a press release. “At the very least, it wouldn’t hurt them.”

Fish oil is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health, growth, development, and regulating inflammation. Omega-3 deficiencies have been associated with various health problems, like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and arthritis. Advocates of fish oil claim that taking supplements can help boost your health in these areas; as a result, many food companies have added it to their products and sold fish oil supplements.

Fish Oil: A Subject of Debate

Before you jump on the fish oil bandwagon, however, you might need to do some of your own research and discover that plenty of studies out there actually point to its myriad of potential negative effects. For example, a 2013 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggested that fish oil was linked to a 43 percent higher risk of prostate cancer. Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine measured its effects on cardiovascular health, and found that fish oil did not actually benefit patients as previously imagined.

Whether you’re struggling with excessive alcohol consumption, or you simply want to use fish oil for its other so-called health benefits, it might be better to simply eat fish or other sources of fish oil as opposed to taking the supplement. Eating regular fish will provide you with your essential serving of omega-3s while also giving you various other important nutrients that fish oil on its own doesn’t contain. “If you are taking [fish oils] on your own because you believe they are good for you, it’s time to rethink that strategy,” Dr. Howard LeWine writes on Harvard Health Publications. “If you don’t eat fish or other seafood, you can get omega-3s from ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil, and soy oil. One to two servings per day can help you avoid a deficiency of omega-3s.”

LeWine also notes that the controversy over fish oil will probably not be resolved any time soon: “[D]on’t expect any clarity about what to do any time soon,” he writes. “I expect other studies with flip-flopping results in the future.”