Omega-3-packed fish oil is often touted as a cure for heart ailments, but recent studies have cast doubt on its effectiveness.
Among nutritional supplements, fish oil is one of the most popular. Containing omega-3 fatty acids — the type of acids found in oily fish such as tuna, anchovies, and mackerel — fish oil has been touted as an antidote for everything from depression to chronic inflammation.
Fish oil has also been promoted as a treatment for heart disease. Although some studies have shown fish oil may increase “good” cholesterol and lower blood pressure — both risk factors for cardiovascular disease — more recent studies have called those benefits into question, suggesting fish oil may even have a negative impact on heart health.
Adverse Effects on Heart Health
The American Heart Association recommends consuming one to two servings of fish per week for overall well-being, including cardiovascular health. Since many people may not like fish, supplements are a viable option. Although fish oil is considered a healthy dietary choice, it may not provide significant cardiovascular benefits, according to recent studies.
A clinical trial sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic was recently halted when participants experienced heart problems. For the study, more than 13,000 patients received either a high-dose of omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo containing corn oil. The fish oil the subjects took was not the type available over the counter.
The purpose of the research, which was conducted at 675 hospitals worldwide, was to determine whether fish oil supplements had any effect on major cardiovascular diseases, such as fatal heart attacks, non-fatal heart attacks, non-fatal strokes, and unstable angina that required hospitalization.
Researchers halted the study when 1,384 patients reported a negative heart event. Specifically, 785 patients (12 percent) receiving the supplement and 795 (12.2 percent) patients in the placebo group experienced a major cardiovascular incident. More than 60 percent of those receiving the fish oil supplement suffered atrial fibrillation. A potentially serious condition, atrial fibrillation refers to an irregular heartbeat that could lead to stroke or heart failure.
A study presented at a recent American Heart Association Scientific Sessions supported the Cleveland Clinic’s conclusion about omega-3 supplements and heart health. Researchers at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars Sinai concluded that neither omega-3 fish oil nor vitamin D prevents the onset of atrial fibrillation.
In a randomized clinical trial, more than 25,000 men and women in the U.S. with no history of atrial fibrillation were given either a fish oil supplement or vitamin D, or a placebo. Over a five-year period, 900 of the participants, or 3.6 percent, were diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat. Scant statistically significant evidence was found to suggest a meaningful difference between those who took fish oil or vitamin D and those who received the placebo. However, the study notes there was no indication fish oil supplements and vitamin D raised the risk of atrial fibrillation, which means those substances are safe to take for other conditions.
These more recent studies contrast with an earlier controversial study that advocated for the use of fish oil as a therapy to reduce heart disease risk. In that study, the placebo used was made of mineral oil, which is unhealthy for the heart when taken regularly. That may have thrown off the results, say researchers.
In light of the recent research, Cleveland Clinic researchers said the FDA should reconsider the use of Vascepa, a fish-oil-based medication for the prevention of heart attack and stroke. The drug was approved in 2019.
Talk to the Heart Specialists
Before you try any home remedy or a so-called “cure” for heart disease, talk to the physicians at Tri-City Cardiology first. Our team of experts will discuss medically proven treatment options to keep your heart healthy. Contact us today for a consultation.