Fish oil supplements ‘do not protect the heart’

Omega-3 supplements don’t reduce the risk of  heart attacks or mortality, according to a Cochrane review billed as the most extensive assessment of the evidence to date.

The review of 79 randomised trials covering more than 112,000 individuals found that increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids from supplements or foods has little or no effect in improving heart and circulatory health or reducing all-cause mortality.

Most of the trials assessed the effects of consuming omega-3 supplements compared with normal dietary consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids for primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The specific nutrients examined included eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oils and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plant foods.

“There is evidence that taking omega-3 capsules does not reduce heart disease, stroke or death,” the authors concluded.

“Although EPA and DHA reduce triglycerides, supplementary omega-3 fats are probably not useful for preventing or treating heart and circulatory diseases.”

Eating more ALA made little or no difference to all-cause or cardiovascular deaths, or coronary events, but could potentially play a protective role in some heart and circulatory diseases.

Cochrane lead author Dr Lee Hooper said the reviewers could be confident about their findings, which are at odds with the popular belief that fish oils protect the heart.

“This large, systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods,” said Dr Hooper, a dietitian and nutritionist from the University of East Anglia, UK. “Despite all this information, we don’t see protective effects.”

And fish oil supplements, also tested in the study of people with diabetes, failed to help.

Claims may sell supplements to a gullible public, but the amazing diversity of nutrients and the literally thousands of phytonutrients in foods can never be concentrated into a pill. It’s time to stop searching for a magic component.

Global sales of omega-3 supplements, including fish and krill oils, are estimated to reach $77.5 billion by 2025.

Hopefully this new Cochrane review will encourage more people to put their money into healthy foods instead.

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