YOUR HEALTH: Why fish oil may not be worth it

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A new study on prescription fish oil products reverses years of conventional wisdom

CLEVELAND — Fish oil products, containing the “good fats” from fish, have long been thought to improve heart health. 

Despite earlier FDA approval, scientists at the Cleveland Clinic said new research examined the benefits of prescription-strength fish oil pills.

“This is a drug that is like the fish oil people buy over-the-counter, but much, much more effective,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, the Chief Academic Officer of the Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

“It has a higher amount of what we call Omega-3 fatty acids which is the active component in fish oil.”

Many people take Omega-3 fish oil supplements to promote heart health. 

For many years, the American Heart Association has recommended eating two servings of fish a week and in 2017 the association also recommended taking supplements to slightly lower the risk of dying after or heart failure or recent heart attack. 

However, they also stated that these supplements do not prevent heart disease.

Now, in a randomized trial of 13,078 patients called the STRENGTH trial, some participants received daily, high-dose Omega-3 supplements. 

Others received a placebo made from corn oil, which is used in cooking. 

Researchers found the prescription Omega-3 fatty acid did not reduce cardiovascular events like heart attack.

“It’s really kind of a wake-up call when you see a study like this where the most potent, prescription-grade fish oil didn’t have any favorable effects,” said Dr. Nissen.

The STRENGTH trial showed a 67% increase in atrial fibrillation in the group that took the high dose Omega-3. 

The trial was stopped by the monitoring committee after 1,384 patients experienced a primary endpoint event.

The primary endpoint events consisted of cardiovascular death, non-fatal heart attack, non-fatal stroke, coronary artery revascularization, and hospitalization for unstable angina.  

Dr. Nissen said the results of the STRENGTH trial have implications for over-the-counter fish oil products since many people take large doses to avoid the expense of prescription fish oil.

Researchers concluded the Omega-3 supplements had no effect in preventing atrial fibrillation. 

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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