In a recent long term Italian study, questions have been raised regarding the benefit of fish oil before a heart attack has occurred. The study was a randomized, controlled, bold-standard trial that tested effects of omega-3 fatty acids effects on the hearts of patients. Omega-3 is found in foods such as sardines and tuna, as well as salmon and olive oil.
Participants in the study showed heart disease risk factors that included high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and history of narrowed arteries and smoking. Those who had a heart attack were excluded from participating.
The participants were followed for five years, and of the over 6,000 participants who had taken one gram capsule of fish oil each day, 11.7 percent of them had been hospitalized or died from heart related problems. This was compared to 11.9 percent of those that had taken a placebo of one gram of olive oil every day for five years.
The results, reported on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, are a surprise to many; other studies have suggested that omega-3 was extremely helpful to those that had survived a heart attack or are suffering with heart failure.
According to the Italian research team, the new findings show no evidence of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of cardiovascular disease or death. Dr. Maria Carla Roncaglioni of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan led the study.
Dr. Roncaglioni said that the study results argue that fish oil supplements might not be a good option, at least for many Italian people, who already typically enjoy a Mediterranean diet. She says, “There is no reason to prescribe fish oil supplementation unless they have a heart attack.”
While scientists did notice a decrease in hospitalizations for heart failure, as well as a bit more of a preventative action for women, they suggest that both may just happen by chance, but the results are consistent with findings from two other studies.
A spokeswoman for the American Heart Association agrees with the findings and says that it’s not enough to just add a supplement to a lifestyle that isn’t heart healthy. In other words, it takes more than just taking vitamins to stay healthy, and that’s what research continues to find with each study.
There were some factors that seemed to improve a little bit in those taking the fish oil, including the levels of “good” cholesterol and fat, but the other measures, like the levels of “bad” cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure stayed pretty consistent between the fish oil group and the placebo group.
What many experts believe the research shows is that it is still necessary to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle, with plenty of lean protein, whole grains and “good fats,” such as olive oil, and fatty fish, as well as lots of fresh produce in the diet. It’s also necessary to get enough exercise, every day. Even walking can help to improve cardiovascular health.
In the end, there simply is no “magic pill” that will eliminate the risk for heart problems; it has to be a whole package approach.