New American Heart Association study says fish oil helps after heart attack
Nearly 19 million adults take omega-3 fish oil supplements as part of their daily regimen, but how many of them actually experience a benefit?
A new American Heart Association statement says for people who have had a heart attack or heart failure, fish oil might help them live longer. But there isn’t enough research to support the average person taking the supplements for cardiovascular health.
“I am all in favor of minimally invasive treatments with minimal side effects,” said Peter Monteleone, MD, Seton Heart Institute cardiologist. “But we should be studying these kinds of treatments rigorously to know the positive and negative effects. Fish oil is one example of this.”
“The American Heart Association says that omega-3 fish oil isn’t recommended for everyone but there may be some benefit to it for some people and it warrants more research,” he said. Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.
Researchers reviewed findings from large randomized clinical trials involving fish oil supplements to prevent heart diseases. The studies looked at the effect of fish oil supplements and found that people who have had heart attack or heart failure might be able to prevent death or hospitalization.
What are omega-3s?
Omega-3s are a group of fatty acids important for a lot of your body’s functions and are found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and shellfish, according to the National Institutes of Health. Another type of omega-3 is found in some vegetable oils.
We can’t tell if people with fish or shellfish allergies can safety take animal-based fish oil, so it’s important to talk with your doctor.
Why fish oil?
Fish oil became tied to health benefits in part because of the Mediterranean diet, which encourages plenty of fish and nuts, among other foods. The belief: If fish is good for you, then fish oil might be too, right?
A fish oil supplement is an easy way to get a large dose serving of omega-3s, especially because it can be tough to get enough omega-3s to make a difference just from diet alone, Monteleone said.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements don’t usually have extreme negative side effects. Some side effects typically include minor gastrointestinal systems like belching, indigestion or diarrhea, Monteleone said.
What research has been conducted?
Other research has studied the effectiveness of omega-3s for diseases of the eye and brain, but there is not yet enough evidence to draw conclusions.
- Some studies have shown that people who have a diet rich in seafood are less likely to develop an advanced stage of Age-related Macular Degeneration, or AMD—an eye disease that can cause loss of vision in people age 50 and older. But other studies have shown that omega-3s do not slow the progression of AMD in people who were already at high risk to develop the disease.
- In 2015, people with AMD participated in a study to determine whether omega-3s helped slow diseases of the brain or nervous system. Results showed that taking omega-3s did not slow cognitive decline in older adults.
- Omega-3s have been studied for preventing or treating other conditions like allergies, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, asthma, kidney disease and more. But no conclusions have been drawn about whether omega-3s help these conditions because of the lack of available evidence.
Important to infant development
Pregnant women should consider Omega-3 fatty acids for their potential benefit to their baby’s brain development before and after birth, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG. Dietary guidelines from 2010 recommend at least 8 ounces of seafood each week for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, with the important distinction to avoid certain types of high-mercury seafood.
Seafood that is high in mercury, which is a toxin, can harm the nervous system of a fetus or young child.
What other benefits does fish oil have?
There has been substantial research on omega-3s in seafood and fish oil related to heart disease, but the findings have been inconsistent.
Some evidence shows that omega-3s found in seafood and fish oil can help with relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as join swelling and pain, according to NIH.
After a heart attack, many patients take aspirin and anti-platelet medications as interventions to prevent things like blood clotting. Supplements like fish oil can be used with these medications but shouldn’t serve as a replacement, Monteleone said. Patients considering taking supplements should talk to their doctor first.
Because the Food and Drug Administration does not have the authority to review dietary supplements like fish oil and its effectiveness before it’s marked, research about positive and negative effects is important.
“It’s important to not only focus on findings from any one study but to examine the big picture of what we already know from research,” Monteleone said.