Fish Oil Pills May Not Save Sinking Hearts

Heart disease patients at high risk of heart attack may get no benefit from fish oil supplements

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

(RxWiki News) Omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been shown to boost heart health. While eating fish may help the heart, fish oil capsules appear to offer no benefit for high-risk heart patients.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week. Fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna) are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have demonstrated potential benefits for reducing heart disease.

While eating fish may help the heart, recent research shows that taking fish oil capsules daily may not provide any benefit for patients who have multiple cardiovascular risk factors or atherosclerosis.

"Eating fish twice a week may improve heart health."

Maria Carla Roncaglione, MSci, of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, and her colleagues followed 12,513 at-risk patients who had no history of heart attack.

The authors noted that prior research had found that in patients who had survived a heart attack and those with heart failure, omega-3 fatty acids (also called n-3 fatty acids) did have a benefit in reducing cardiovascular mortality.

About half the participants in this study took one capsule daily containing one gram of n-3 fatty acids and the other half took a placebo of olive oil.

After five years, scientists checked the rates of death, heart attack and stroke and found them to be about the same in each group.

“There was no significant benefit of n-3 fatty acids in reducing the risk of death from cardiovascular causes or hospital admission for cardiovascular causes,” wrote the authors.

There were also no significant differences in blood pressure, heart rate, total and LDL cholesterol levels, or blood glucose or glycated hemoglobin levels between the two groups.

Deborah Gordon, an integrative physician at Madrona Homeopathy in Ashland, Oregon, who was not involved with the study, told dailyRx News, “Cold water fish is undeniably good for your heart and the fish may be better for you than the pills, but mostly the value of an omega-3 supplement matters most in relation to your omega-6 intake.”

There are different types of omega-6 fatty acids. Some come from meat (which has saturated fat) and some come from vegetable oils, nuts and seeds (which has unsaturated fat). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that most people should consume at least five to ten percent of their total daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids.

The organization also suggests that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats may help reduce heart disease risk.

“In my practice, I continue to stress the equal importance of reducing excessive omega-6 intake and increasing omega-3 intake,” said Dr. Gordon.

The study was published in May in The New England Journal of Medicine. The research was supported by supported by Società Prodotti Antibiotici, Pfizer and Sigma-Tau.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 16, 2013
Last Updated:
September 17, 2013