Fish Oil Pills Don’t Fix Heart Ills in 24-Year Data Review

Looks like a fish oil pill a day won’t keep the doctor away.

Scientists who reviewed data from about 68,000 patients gathered in 20 trials over the past 24 years found that men and women taking fish oil supplements didn’t lower their risk for a bevy of ills including heart attacks, strokes and death.

Diverging recommendations about the benefits of fish-oil supplements, which contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, can “cause confusion in everyday clinical practice about whether to use these agents for cardiovascular protection,” Moses Elisaf and his colleagues from the University of Ioannina in Greece wrote in the study.

The scientists concluded that the use of fish-oil pills is unnecessary to ward off heart disease, a finding that contradicts other studies that said the supplements were beneficial.

The paper, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association yesterday, belongs to a form of research known as a meta-analysis, which evaluates data from previous investigations without doing new clinical work.

The patients involved were largely of European descent and took an average of 1.5 grams (0.05 ounces) of omega-3 supplements a day for a median of two years.

Walnuts and Flaxseed

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week. It advises patients with chronic heart disease to consume one gram of omega-3 fatty acids a day, preferably through their diets. Some patients may need to take fish oil supplements to reach that threshold in consultation with their physicians, according to the AHA.

Studies including an Italian one dubbed GISSI have found fish oils to be beneficial.

Humans can’t make omega-3 fatty acids from scratch, but need them for healthy brain function as well as growth and development. These acids can be found in fish as well as in foods such as walnuts and flaxseed.

The JAMA study is misleading because the analysis included people who had suffered heart attacks or strokes, and failed to account for the effect of cardiovascular drugs that the subjects had taken, according to GOED, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based industry group representing companies that make and market omega-3 fatty acids. Members include BASF SE (BAS), Croda International Plc (CRDA) and Omega Protein Corp. (OME)

“The totality of the scientific evidence justifies the use of omega-3s for both people with diagnosed cardiovascular disease and those trying to prevent cardiovascular disease,” Adam Ismail, GOED’s executive director, said in a statement.

The study’s authors reported that they had no financial conflicts of interest.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eva von Schaper in Munich at evonschaper@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net

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