A concentrated prescription fish oil may be the only omega-3 supplement to reduce the risk of heart problems, a new study has found.
Around 22 percent of Americans aged 60 or older take a daily omega-3 pill despite few studies to support the many health claims made for it.
And a new study, presented at the American Heart Association conference confirmed that fish oil taken by healthy adults has no clear ability to lower heart disease or cancer risks.
In fact, the benefits were only seen in those who were on medication to lower their cholesterol and prevent a heart attack or stroke.
A new study has found that Vascepa, a prescription fish oil for those with high triglycerides, reduced the risk of heart disease by 25 percent
Fish oils, also called omega-3 fatty acids, are found in salmon, tuna and certain other fish. There are different types, including EPA and DHA.
A study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, looked at the effects of the prescription Vascepa, which is concentrated EPA, on more than 8,000 patients with high triglycerides.
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood and high levels of them are often signs of other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, such as obesity and metabolic syndrome.
All the study participants were already taking a statin, which combats high cholesterol. Half the patients were given a four-gram dose of Vascepa every day and the other half were given mineral oil capsules.
At the end of the five-year study period, 17 percent of patients on Vascepa had suffered a heart problem – heart attack, stroke, heart-related death or clogged arteries – compared to 22 percent of the controlled group.
Researchers determined that, overall, the prescription reduced the risk of heart disease by 25 percent.
‘The…trial sets a new standard of care for patients who have elevated triglycerides and are at increased cardiovascular risk despite statin therapy,’ lead researcher Dr Deepak Bhatt, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a news release.
‘This may be the biggest development in cardiovascular prevention since statins.’
Side effects may be a concern, however. More people on Vascepa were hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat – three percent versus two percent of the comparison group.
Doctors say this is puzzling because past research has suggested fish oil lowers the risk of arrhythmia.
The other study, also led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, tested a lower one-gram daily dose of a different type of fish oil, an EPA/DHA combo sold as Lovaza or Omacor and in generic form.
Nearly 26,000 adult participants were involved, none of whom had a history of either heart disease or cancer. One group took doses of fish oil and the other group took a placebo pill.
After five years, the rates of heart problems among fish oil users were similar to the placebo group.
However, fish oil seemed to lower the risk of heart attacks by 28 percent. There were 145 heart attacks in the supplement group compared to 200 in the placebo group.
Study leader Dr JoAnn Manson, a professor in the department of epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s, called this ‘a substantial benefit’.
However, several independent experts disagreed because of the way the study was set up to track this and certain other results.
‘These findings are speculative and would need to be confirmed in a separate trial,’ Dr Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Associated Press.