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Heart Disease Health Center

Fish Oil Fizzles for Fighting Heart Attack, Stroke

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 11, 2012 -- Millions of people take over-the-counter omega-3 supplements to improve their heart health, but new evidence questions their benefit.

Researchers looked at 20 studies involving nearly 70,000 people, many of whom were heart patients. Adding omega-3 to their diet did not appear to lower the chance of having a heart attack or stroke or lower the risk of death from these and other causes.

Many people take fish oil capsules to get omega-3. But, as in this study, not all omega-3 came from fish oil. It also came from other sources.

The study appears in the Sept. 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A study published last spring failed to show a benefit for omega-3 supplements in people with existing heart disease.

Omega-3 Didn’t Appear to Lower Risk

The American Heart Association recommends that all adults eat at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week, and that people with heart disease take about 1 gram total of two types of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) per day, preferably from fatty fish.

Capsules containing DHA and EPA are an option, but talk to your doctor before using them.

The AHA also recommends that people with high levels of blood fats known as triglycerides take 2 to 4 grams of EPA plus DHA per day under a doctor’s care.

Higher doses should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor, as they can cause bleeding.

In the new analysis, when people who took omega-3 were compared to people who took placebo capsules, no major difference was seen in the risk for heart attacks, strokes, sudden cardiac death, and death between the two groups.

The findings do not justify the use of omega-3 supplements regularly as a treatment or prevention, researcher Evangelos C. Rizos, MD, and colleagues from Greece's University Hospital of Ioannina write in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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