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Omega-3 Fatty Acid May Protect Heart

EPA, a Fatty Acid in Fish Oil, May Prevent Nonfatal Heart Problems

Study's Limits

Fish is a staple of the traditional Japanese diet. That may partly explain why EPA pills didn't seem to curb fatal heart events. "Our patients could possibly all have had intakes of fish that were above the threshold for prevention of fatal coronary events or sudden cardiac death," write Yokoyama and colleagues.

The researchers didn't ask patients about their diets.

Yokoyama's team also warns that the findings might not apply to people who don't eat lots of fish. "EPA might affect risk only at very high levels of fish intake, such as those common in Japan," they write.

Lastly, the researchers note that they only tested EPA pills, not fish or fish oil. The pills were made in Japan by Mochida Pharmaceutical Co., which funded the study.

Curbing Heart Problems

The study appears in The Lancet, along with an editorial by Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, MPH, DrPH, of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Mozaffarian points out that the study didn't include a group taking an inactive pill (placebo) along with their statins.

Still, the drop in nonfatal heart events in those taking EPA and statins "should not necessarily be discounted," writes Mozaffarian.

He commends the Japanese researchers for their work and calls for further studies.

Mozaffarian takes a back-to-basics approach to preventing heart problems. For instance, he notes in his editorial that modest dietary changes are less risky, less costly, and more accessible than drugs, invasive procedures, or devices.

"We must curb our infatuation with downstream risk factors and treatments, and focus on the fundamental risk factors for cardiovascular disease: dietary habits, smoking, and physical activity," writes Mozaffarian.

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