Chances are someone has asked you about taking fish oil. Many doctors recommend taking approximately 1 gram per day of marine-derived omega-3 fatty acid – commonly called fish oil.
Many of you are already taking fish oil supplements based on the recommendation of your doctor. While a common practice, recent data has called this into question.
Fish Oil Recommendations
The current guidelines recommend using omega-3 supplements to prevent heart disease and decrease the risk of major complications for those who already are affected by coronary heart disease such as stroke or need for emergency heart surgery.
Unfortunately, several large studies have shown conflicting results leaving everyone confused about what is the best treatment.
Before we get too far into this topic, let’s define a few terms:
- Coronary artery disease – also know as CAD, Coronary Heart Disease, CHD, and atherosclerotic heart disease. A build up of plaque causes the heart arteries to narrow.
- Coronary heart disease- see above. Symptoms include chest discomfort, tightness or pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea and at times, sudden death.
- Stroke-blockage of a blood vessel to the brain. Symptoms can include weakness, drooping of one side of the face or mouth, slurred speech, loss of strength and incoordination.
While there is clear evidence that inflammation plays a role in heart disease, what is not clear is what does of fish oil (marine-derived omega 3 fatty acids) are beneficial, if any.
Does Taking Fish Oil Help Prevent Heart Attacks?
What follows are the results of ten studies treating almost 78,000 high-risk patients with omega-3 supplements for an average of 4.4 years. The objective of analyzing the data was to see if Omega-3 supplements helped decrease the risk of both fatal and non-fatal heart attacks and other catastrophic events such as stroke or need for heart surgery related to heart disease.
The results of the ten studies, unfortunately, showed no significant reduction in fatal or nonfatal heart attacks or any other major events related to heart disease. Even further, after looking at subgroups such as those with diabetes, high cholesterol, use of cholesterol lower medication (statin) and prior heart disease (coronary artery disease) no improvement was noted for those treated with fish oil.
The overall take-home point is that based on the best current data, there is no evidence that taking fish oil supplements at the currently recommended dose (1 g/d) will decrease the risk of heart attack, death from a heart attack, or other significant events caused by heart disease.
A similar result was reported in 2016 by the US Agency for Healthcare Research, and Quality and no reduction of risk was noted for those taking omega-3 supplements.
Further studies are needed to look at whether high doses of fish oil, combinations of fish oil and other treatments such as diet and lifestyle interventions, or statin use can decrease the risk of heart disease. Current studies looking at whether 3-4 grams of fish oil per day may provide benefit are in progress.