Do fish oil supplements lower the risk of heart issues?

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The effectiveness of fish oil supplements for people at risk of suffering heart ailments is being questioned.

Medications derived from fish oils are among the world’s most popular supplements, but a new study from the Cleveland Clinic found high doses of common fish oils did not lower people’s risk of experiencing heart issues.

“A medication derived from fish oil, containing the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, was evaluated in a large, international study of more than 13,000 people who had existing heart disease or who were at high risk of heart disease due to other medical conditions. The medication did not reduce the risk of cardiac events compared to a corn oil-based placebo in the STRENGTH trial,” reports Science Daily.

“Many people continue to take fish oil supplements to prevent heart disease. However, the fish oil medication we tested in the STRENGTH trial was not effective for that purpose,” said lead author A. Michael Lincoff, M.D., vice-chairman for research of the department of cardiovascular medicine and an interventional cardiologist at the Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

“We believe the questions surrounding the benefit versus risk of fish oil will remain unanswered unless another trial using a neutral placebo such as corn oil is able to definitively show cardiovascular benefits for an omega-3 fatty acid medication,” he said.

Healthline says evidence linking fish oil and heart health has been mixed and it varies based on the types and quantities of fish oil evaluated and the type of placebo used.

“More research is needed to understand how different types of fish oil impact the body.”

“Combination DHA and EPA fish oil did not demonstrate any significant cardiovascular benefit, even at high dosages, and specifically in this trial – [the] STRENGTH trial,” said Dr Guy Mintz, director of cardiovascular health at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in New York.

According to Dr Mintz, fish oil is believed to improve heart health because it has anti-inflammatory properties and blood-thinning effects.

A previous study, which concluded that omega-3 fatty acids had a significant benefit on heart health, has been criticised because the mineral oil placebo used might have affected cholesterol levels, leading to the “mistaken impression” that fish oil was beneficial.

No studies have convincingly shown that common over-the-counter fish oils lead to clinical benefit, says Dr Richard Wright, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Dr Sanjiv Patel, an interventional cardiologist at Memorial Care Heart in California, says anyone considering taking fish oil should consult their physician.

“Given the slight increase in atrial fibrillation with use of fish oil, one conclusion is clear, patients should always discuss the use of this supplement as well as any other with their doctor,” Dr Patel said.

Dr Howard LeWine, from Harvard Health, says the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are crucial for brain function, normal growth and development and dealing with inflammation.

“Deficiencies have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers, mood disorders, arthritis, and more. But that doesn’t mean taking high doses translates to better health and disease prevention.”

Fish oil supplements promising better heart health, mental health and a longer life have become a $1 billion a year industry.

“How food, and its component molecules, affect the body is largely a mystery. That makes the use of supplements for anything other than treating a deficiency questionable,” says Dr LeWine.

He suggests that eating fish and seafood – with their “entire orchestra” of fats, vitamins, minerals and supporting molecules – is a healthy strategy, rather than taking the “lone notes” of EPA and DHA.

“The same holds true of other foods. Taking even a handful of supplements is no substitute for wealth of nutrients you get from eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

He suggests following food author Michael Pollan’s simple but now famous diet advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants.”

Have you ever taken fish oil? Have you followed the debate on where supplements are bogus or beneficial?

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Written by Will Brodie

22 Comments

Total Comments: 22
  1. 0
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    trouble is its hard to find fresh fish that is clean these days , of mercury and such

  2. 0
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    What about the “COD-LIVER-OIL” we had in the UK during WW11 it was claimed it was a life-saver because of its contents.

    • 0
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      That would have been more about vitamin D deficiency which at that time caused rickets. No need for it today when vitamin D is added to many products, and in Australia for those who are able to spend time in the sun.

  3. 0
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    Hocus Pocus all vitamin supplements…….and the $$$ Cost

    • 0
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      Agree..No Guarantee of what is really in them..

    • 0
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      Actually Panos, you are wrong.
      While it is certainly true that the bulk of vitamin and mineral supplements often contain :

      Less of the vitamin they advertise

      Contents which are either not readily absorbed, or not absorbable at all

      Mixed with fillers which are actually harmful.

      The trouble is in the marketing which make us believe that these products will allow us to stop worrying about eating healthily or being properly concerned about our children’s diet.

      However there are reliable products out there which do help elderly people and others whose digestive systems just don’t work well.

      Some of them are really powerful and available on prescription only.

      Generally if you are feeling worn out or stressed out it’s not a bad idea to have a relevant product which your doctor will recommend.

      It can be DANGEROUS to self diagnose.

      Just because the shelves are full of fancy packs with fancy claims and are available without prescription doesn’t mean we should tuck in!

  4. 0
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    My wife takes a fish oil capsule each morning for an elbow problem. I’m not about to claim that fish oil is wonderful but I do know that if she misses a couple of days that the pain in her elbow returns. Perhaps fish oil is the reason for the loss of pain or maybe it’s psychosomatic but either way it works.

  5. 0
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    The real issue is that unless there is a deficiency no supplement will ‘work’ and you might as well cut out the middle man and throw them directly in the toilet.

    The other issue is that self-diagnosis is never a good thing. Even if the supplement is of high quality with an appropriate dosage of the active ingredient, more is not better. There are also drug-drug interactions to be considered. This presents a problem when either the doctor has not prescribed the supplement or the patient does not tell the doctor what they are on. people think that supplements are ‘natural’ so safe. But hey, arsenic is ‘natural’ too!

    • 0
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      Hi KSS, I would not agree that self diagnnosis is Always not a good thing, – many doctors have a narrow viewpoint so don’t take in the whole whereas we live in the whole of us, so sometimes may notice something that the doctor does not consider important, or has not considered.
      Also attitudes based on what is normal can obscure correct diagnosis, – for example, flu injections produce certain symptoms, and are expected by all health workers to only produce those, – so if a person reacts to their flu jab in an unexpected way they tend to think it is not the flu jab but something else, so may kill the innocent patient with an assumption.
      This happens overall far more than we would like, so good to keep the input from the patient fully in mind, and remember no-one feels your body as strongly as you do.

  6. 0
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    I had to give up my fish oil supplement on doctor’s advice because I’m a bleeder.

    • 0
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      Robyn, there are a number of pesticides, eg Warfarin and it’s decendants, that kill by stopping blood clotting, but eg. Rabbits, and rats, etc. produce more vitamin K, over time as that stops the blood from clotting, so have beome immune.
      Might be worth discussing with your Doc about Vitamin K?
      Not every Doc can think outside the square, and it is you that have to live with the consequences, – or not live, and the Doc is insured..

  7. 0
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    The fact that fish oil reduces inflammation and thins the blood is good for other conditions
    Thinner blood helps circulation to the brain and eyes and can help with confusion and sight issues

  8. 0
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    Hubby’s cancer surgeon recommended a fish oil supplement, but he will check that out with his heart surgeon.

  9. 0
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    Fish oil is dangerous, never consume oils of any kind, but especially heavily processed, there is no life left in it, eat fresh seafood instead if you think you need it, but most fish has mercury and other heavy metals that accumulate in your body and will cause other problems.
    Best thing to protect your heart is a healthy wholefood diet full of fresh foods and exercise of course.

    • 0
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      Also if you want the Omegas you can get it from seaweed, much safer.

    • 0
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      Well – in the end you die anyway, I take krill oil once a day, happy with it, take it for my joints not my heart and it did help me. Incognito, I DO NOT like sea weed unless it is wrapped around sushi rolls. I do know there are a lot of things to eat and drink that are good for me but I don’t like the taste of them. Fresh food and so on I am in favor of and I eat fresh fish 5 times a day most weeks but I still like my weekly eye fillet (I know $60 a kg is high but that is the price around here).

    • 0
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      Why do you need to take krill if you eat some much fish?

    • 0
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      LOL – I meant 5 times a week!! Sorry.

  10. 0
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    Fish oil is dangerous for people with diabetes or aneurysms because it is a blood thinner which prevents blood clotting.

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