Fish Oil Supplements and Heart-Failure Patients Get Along Swimmingly

Fish oil appears to help heart-failure patients by improving heart function, exercise tolerance

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A new study suggests fish oil (omega-3 fatty acid) supplements may help heart failure patients.

Dr. Mihai Gheorghiade, a professor of cardiology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said taking these fatty acids resulted in improved heart function and exercise tolerance, even among patients who had already demonstrated marked improvement from standard treatment.

The study followed 133 heart-failure patients with minimal symptoms on standard treatment who were assigned either placebo or omega-3 fatty acid supplements and found that after a year, those who took supplements showed a 10.4 percent increase in heart function compared to a 5 percent heart-function increase in the control group.

Additionally, blood oxygen levels increased 6.2 percent in the omega-3 group compared to a decrease of 4.5 percent in the control group.

Exercise tolerance increased 7.5 percent in the supplement group compared to 4.8 percent in those taking placebo.

Larger studies would need to be conducted to confirm fish oil's efficacy in boosting the effects of traditional heart-failure therapy.

Gheorghiade said the study results are promising, but not conclusive. He added it would be a mistake to overlook the potential value of macro and micronutrients in the management of heart failure, however.

Heart failure, sometimes known as congestive heart failure, affects more than 4.5 million Americans.

In other fish oil news, the supplement doesn't appear to have the same health-boosting effects in Alzheimer's or atrial fibrillation patients.

It had been speculated the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, but in a study from Oregon Health and Science University and the Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, Ore., patients did not experience a reduction in the rate of cognitive and functional decline compared to patients who received placebo.

Similarly with atrial fibrillation (or AF, abnormal heart rhythms that can cause blood clots and lead to stroke or heart attack), fish oil supplements were previously thought to benefit patients.

But in a randomized clinical trial, researchers looked at prescription omega-3 fatty acids in 663 AF patients at a significantly higher dose than what had been tested in previous trials. Most of the patients (542) had symptomatic paroxysmal (sudden attacks) of AF, while 121 exhibited persistent AF.

After a six-month follow-up, scientists found a total of 147 AF events (46 percent) in the placebo group and 167 (52 percent) in the prescription group.

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Last Updated:
January 14, 2011