Omega-3 fish oil supplements prescribed to heart attack and chronic heart failure patients may help prevent death, a new advisory from the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests.
But while fish oil may help extend these patients’ lives, there is no strong evidence for recommending these supplements to prevent heart disease in the first place, the advisory added.
OK For Heart Patients, No-Go For Prevention
“We cannot make a recommendation to use omega-3 fish oil supplements for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease at this time,” said lead study author Dr. David Siscovick in a statement, pointing to “the absence of scientific data” showing benefits in people who do not carry a cardiovascular disease diagnosis.
About 18.8 million adults in America reportedly took fish oil in 2012, and a study pinpointed that roughly 8 percent of U.S. adults or almost 19 million used fish oil in the last month alone.
Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, trout, herring, and sardines and foods such as algae, krill, and nut oils. The AHA recommends eating fish at least twice a week, but supplementation is often used when one isn’t consuming enough of these food sources.
For people with heart failure, the AHA saw some benefit. A large, randomized clinical trial demonstrated how a low dose of the supplement slashed death and hospitalization by 9 percent in patients of heart failure, which takes place when the heart cannot sufficiently pump blood.
In general, the new advisory is based on a review of 15 trials testing the supplement’s effect on heart health and on situations such as strokes, heart attacks, and atrial fibrillation. Thirteen were performed after 2002, which was the last time the group rolled out recommendations on fish oil.
Most studies used around 1,000 milligrams each day as omega-3 fat doses.
Contrasting Opinions On Fish Oil Supplementation
“We felt like the time was right to revisit this and review the evidence,” Siscovick said.
Not all experts agreed that the new recommendations are beneficial, though.
Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s cardiovascular medicine, dubbed it “a disservice to the public” as he saw no convincing proof that fish oil truly benefits heart patients. He pointed to mixed conclusions, and that the benefit seen was anchored on just one trial showing a small effect on patient outcomes.
Dr. Marvin Lipman, chief medical advisor of Consumer Reports, had the same opinion.
“The bottom line is that there are many people who are taking fish oil supplements for no good reason,” he said.
Another worry: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require these over-the-counter supplements to prove safety and effectiveness prior to their placement on store shelves.
Dr. Ravi Dave, heading UCLA Santa Monica’s cardiology and imaging department, however told CBS News that he recommends fish oil for all his heart patients, particularly those who do not consume fish. He believes it may be an easy route to supplement one’s diet “that may be lacking in those necessary ingredients.”
People are advised to consult their doctor prior to taking any health supplement.