A new study on the relationship between Omega-3 fatty acids and heart health is making the rounds, suggesting that there is no health benefit from taking Omega-3 supplements.
In conclusion, omega-3 PUFAs [PolyUnsaturated Fatty Acids] are not statistically significantly associated with major cardiovascular outcomes across various patient populations. Our findings do not justify the use of omega-3 as a structured intervention in everyday clinical practice or guidelines supporting dietary omega-3 PUFA administration.
This study has led some media to proclaim that researchers have “failed to find any clinical benefit for Omega-3 supplements.”
That’s a bold statement, and not accurate.
What the new study, a meta-analysis of 20 earlier studies on Omega-3s and heart health, actually says is that if you already have a history of heart disease, supplements ain’t gonna help.
If you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, have had a heart attack, have a pacemaker implanted, or have had a stroke, taking Omega-3 supplements has no perceivable effect on lowering your risk of having another cardiovascular event, the analysis shows. Unfortunately, the analysis did not really look at the role Omega-3s play in preventing cardiovascular disease in the first place.
Dietician Jennifer Sygo points out how this is flawed in an excellent article published in the National Post:
Notably, however, this review pooled together both primary and secondary prevention studies, meaning that some of the studies looked at the impact of omega-3s on the prevention of a first heart attack or stroke (primary prevention), while others focused on the role fish oils play in the prevention of a second cardiac event or death (secondary prevention). The difficulty of lumping these two groups together and drawing conclusions is that patients in secondary prevention studies are often engaged in numerous heart health interventions, ranging from taking blood pressure or cholesterol medications, to making dietary and lifestyle changes, to being monitored by their physician and health care team on a regular basis. The cumulative effect of each of these changes means that it is possible — even likely — that the benefit of fish oils are rendered nearly inconsequential. Ultimately, only four of the 20 studies looked at the role that fish oils play in primary prevention, and none exclusively.
The study’s conclusions have been discussed before. Scientists are still trying to find out definitively if Omega-3s are beneficial as treatment for people with cardiovascular disease and this debate has been going on for years.
The most recent study also only really looked at the effects of supplements, not on the effects of eating fish high in Omega-3s. Numerous studies have concluded that while eating oily fish regularly or taking supplements regularly provide the same Omega-3 benefits, eating oily fish regularly likely has more overall benefits by providing other nutrients and may even make fish better for your heart health than supplements.
There may be other elements in a diet of fish intake that may contribute to the CV [cardiovascular] benefits. The fact that several important nutrients such as vitamin D, phospholipids, and naturally occurring antioxidants are missing in fish oil supplements have some experts advocating dietary intake of fatty fish as the main source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Of course, we have to again point out that farmed salmon has the highest amount of Omega-3 fatty acids compared to all other seafood (see Table 1), in a good 2:1 ratio with Omega-6 fatty acids, and is always available and affordable.
So this latest study is no reason to stop trying to get a good daily dosage of Omega-3s through eating oily fish or taking your fish oil capsules. They do help in preventing cardiovascular problems.
Just don’t expect them to be a magic cure-all.