Pros & Cons of Fish Oil for Heart Health
The Omega 3s found in fish oil have long been used as a healthy supplement to help lower one’s risk of a serious cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. This has led heart-conscious people everywhere to consume more fish in their diet or take capsulated fish oil daily. However, recent studies have found that the link between Omega 3 and heart health may not be as strong as we once thought. Here is what you need to know about fish oil and heart health.
What is Omega 3?
Omega 3 is a type of healthy fatty acid that can be holistically beneficial in small doses. This class of fats includes alphalinolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). ALA can be found independently in plant based fatty foods like nuts and seeds. DHA and EPA together, known as long-chain omega 3 fats, can be found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Long-chain omega 3s are also found in fish oils including cod liver oil. These fatty acids can be a healthy addition to anyone’s diet, so those who do not consume enough Omega 3-rich foods might be considering taking a fish oil supplement as part of their daily routine.
Omega 3s are beneficial in treating a variety of conditions including, but not limited to, asthma, arthritis, and even depression. Additionally, they can serve as a preventative measure against heart attack or stroke. It is also often recommended to those who have already suffered a cardiovascular event to eat more fish and consume more Omega 3s. However, new research may prove that fish oil is less effective than we once thought.
Fish Oil Studies Yield Inconsistent Results
When researchers were originally studying the effectiveness of fish oil, most studies conducted were observational. One Italian study focused on 11,000 patients who had previously experienced heart attacks. The subjects were given Omega 3s, a vitamin E supplement, both, or neither. There were no placebos offered in this study. Over the course of three and a half years, those who had taken Omega 3s had a 45 percent lower chance of suffering a heart attack than those who had taken nothing. Additionally, the vitamin E supplement seemed to have no impact on its own.
In a conflicting Italian study, 12,500 patients who were considered at risk for heart attack were either given Omega 3s or a placebo. After five years, the participants who had taken the fish oil were found to be just as likely to suffer from a cardiovascular event as those who had taken the placebo.
Researchers Unsure of Omega 3’s Effectiveness
The conflicting results of these two studies demonstrate that fish oil might not always be a reliable treatment for heart attack or stroke prevention. Because these studies were observational, and the subjects had a history of heart conditions, many of them were also taking other things to aid their ailments, like ACE inhibitors, aspirin, or other medications, that could have influenced their risk of a heart attack. This means that the other drugs could have been lowering the subjects’ risk while the success was being wrongly credited to fish oil.
In order to better understand how fish oil helps fight against heart attack and stroke, researchers are starting to perform more controlled studies on the topic.
Should You Still Take Fish Oil Supplements?
Even if fish oil is not as effective as we once thought, it is still a healthy source of protein, iron, and vitamin D. In fact, the American Heart Association still encourages everyone to consume Omega 3s on the regular basis. For those who are not currently suffering from heart disease, consuming 400 to 500 milligrams of Omega 3s on a weekly basis is still recommended by physicians. For those with coronary heart disease, 1,000 milligrams is recommended.
Supplements like fish oil and regular exercise are great ways to maintain a healthy heart. However, no supplement can replace the effectiveness of regular visits to the cardiologist. To better understand what your heart might need, trust the professionals at The CardioVascular Group. Schedule an appointment with us today.