Daily Fish Oil Supplement May Not Help Your Heart
Get your omega-3s from food, not pills, experts suggest
By Dennis Thompson
MONDAY, March 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- People who take fish oil capsules may not be getting the heart-health benefits they desired, according to a pair of new research reports.
Both studies found that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements do not provide any significant protection against heart disease, when compared to other types of dietary fats.
"Looking at the 17 randomized clinical trials that we combined, the majority of the trials -- especially the more recent and large-scale ones -- showed consistently little or no significant effect on reducing coronary heart disease events," said Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, lead author of a comprehensive review of nutrition research related to fats.
Of the range of fats studied, only trans fats showed a clear negative effect on heart health, according to the review published in the March 18 Annals of Internal Medicine by Chowdhury, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, and colleagues.
Trans fats can still be found in processed foods -- look for the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" in the ingredient list.
Saturated fats, long considered a dietary no-no, appeared to pose no additional risk for heart disease according to recent research, Chowdhury said. They carried about the same cardiac risk as unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. They can be found in butter, lard, cheese and cream, as well as the fatty white areas on cuts of meat. By contrast, unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature -- think of vegetable cooking oil or olive oil.
A second study also came to the same conclusion regarding omega-3 fatty acids, via a different route. This study had been reviewing the use of omega-3s for eye health, but researchers used their data to look at whether the supplements also helped prevent heart disease.
That study found no reduction in heart attack, stroke or heart failure among almost 1,100 people taking omega-3 supplements, compared to similar numbers of people taking other supplements for eye health or just an inactive placebo. It appeared online March 17 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The meta-analysis performed by Chowdhury's team involved data from 72 studies with more than 600,000 participants from 18 nations. The team combined study findings to assess the heart health benefits of all types of dietary fat -- saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Until now, doctors have said that saturated fats increase "bad" LDL cholesterol, which can cause plaques to form in your arteries and raise your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
At the same time, omega-3 fatty acids were said to improve heart health because it increases your level of "good" HDL cholesterol. Good cholesterol is believed to help the body rid itself of bad cholesterol.