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Daily Fish Oil Supplement May Not Help Your Heart

Get your omega-3s from food, not pills, experts suggest

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While this is still true, Chowdhury and his team found that neither effect seemed to make much difference for overall cardiac risk.

"Saturated fats are not essentially the main problem when it comes to risk of heart disease," Chowdhury said. "Also, omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids have no or little impact on reducing cardiovascular disease outcomes."

The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing the dietary supplement industry, released a statement calling the new report's viewpoint "potentially irresponsible" and accusing it of causing "nutritional guidance whiplash" for consumers.

"There are thousands of studies and decades of recommendations from government, academic, nutritional and medical organizations and experts supporting the important heart health benefits associated with diets high in polyunsaturated fats, low in saturated fats, and avoidance of trans fats," Duffy MacKay, a naturopathic doctor and the council's senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said in the prepared statement.

MacKay added that dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association and the federal government both emphasize the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in a person's diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids do play an important role in good nutrition, as do other unsaturated fats, study author Chowdhury noted.

"Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for health," Chowdhury said. "We need omega-3 fatty acids for numerous normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain."

But people should focus on getting their omega-3 fatty acids from food rather than through supplements, the researcher said.

Dr. Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association (AHA), agreed.

"There is continuing data to support eating fish on a regular basis for heart health and other health benefits like [mental] function," Van Horn said. "There's no question that eating fish provides tremendous value in reducing risk for cardiovascular disease, but the use of a supplement -- whether it's a fish oil or any other nutrient -- really needs to be handled carefully."

People should keep their overall fat intake low because fats contain twice the calories of proteins or carbohydrates, according to federal guidelines.

Van Horn said the AHA's nutrition committee will review these new findings at its next meeting.

"I don't think we take any of these kind of findings lightly, nor would we recommend the benefit of a supplement ever over a heart-healthy diet," she said, noting that the new review is "further elaborating on nutrient data that weren't even available five or 10 years ago."

And, she added, "While there's a tendency for the American public to throw up their hands, the better way to interpret this is, 'How wonderful we have additional data and can look at these questions that previously went unanswered.'"

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