September 12, 2012
New Study Says Fish Oils May Not Prevent Heart Disease
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Contrary to widespread medical opinion, a new study indicates that taking fish oil supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids may not actually help to prevent death, heart attacks or strokes.
The study´s findings were recently published in The Journal of the Medical Association. The researchers looked at 20 clinical trials that took place between 1989 and 2012 and included 68,680 individuals who participated in the studies for a minimum of one year.
The study´s subjects took omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements that were extracted from fish oils. Researchers discovered that there was no statistically significant decrease in the incidence of heart attacks, cardiac-related deaths or strokes for the people taking supplements.
According to ABC News, even though the fish oil supplements are popular on the market, some cardiologists believe that consumers should consider whether it is necessary to purchase the supplements after hearing the news of the study.
"There's never been any compelling evidence of a clinical benefit," noted Dr. Steven Nissen, professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner School of Medicine.
Some doctors, however, continue to recommend the supplements to their patients, noting that the study requires follow-up research and is not yet definitive. Some have also pointed out that the patient data that was used in the study was tracked for less than three years.
"Patients and doctors like the idea that it is natural and has no real side effects," Dr. Howard Weintraub, clinical director of New York University Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, told ABC News.
Additionally, skeptics have pointed out that the scope of the study is limited as it only examines 20 articles on fish oil when there are thousands that have been written on the topic.
"This inherently makes it hard to group them together for one analysis," remarked Dr. Merle Myerson, director of cardiovascular disease prevention at Continuum Health Partners, in the ABC News article.
The review differed from previous studies which have claimed that diets rich in fatty fish help reduce rates of heart disease. According to USA Today, a study in 1989 discovered that men who had suffered a heart attack and adjusted their diet to add fatty fish high in omega-3 oils had a 29 percent less chance of dying in the following two years compared to men who did not consume fish oils. However, subsequent studies after the 1989 research project produced results that were less clear.
The researchers believe that more studies need to be done on omega-3 to better understand whether it is really helpful in preventing certain diseases, and if so how. Many continue to suspect that omega-3 fatty acids have qualities that help to treat and prevent heart disease that are simply not yet fully understood. Some have noted that participants in past studies did not take enough or high enough dosages of the supplements to provide measurable benefits or that they were taking the supplements in conjunction with other medicine that may have masked the benefits of the fish oils.
“The good news is that the combined evidence from controlled trials confirms that fish oil reduces death from heart disease,” explained Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, who studies fish oil and heart health at Harvard's School of Public Health but unaffiliated with the study, in a WebMD article. “The bad news is that effect appears smaller than we had thought — about a 10% lowering of risk.”