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Study casts doubt on health benefit of fish oil supplements

 The new research goes against the popular belief that long-chain omega 3 supplements protect the heart.
The new research goes against the popular belief that long-chain omega 3 supplements protect the heart.

New evidence suggests there is little or no benefit in taking omega 3 supplements to reduce the risk of experiencing heart disease.

Researchers from Cochrane looked at the results of 79 randomised trials involving 112,059 people and found that the chance of getting any meaningful benefit from taking omega 3 supplements was one in 1,000.

The studies recruited men and women, some healthy and others with existing illnesses from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Participants were randomly assigned to increase their omega 3 fats or to maintain their usual intake of fat for at least a year. Most studies investigated the impact of giving a long-chain omega 3 supplement in a capsule form and compared it to a dummy pill. Only a few assessed whole fish intake.

The researchers found that increasing long-chain omega 3 provides little if any benefit on most outcomes that they looked at. They found high certainty evidence that long-chain omega 3 fats had little or no meaningful effect on the risk of death from any cause. The risk of death from any cause was 8.8 per cent in people who had increased their intake of omega 3 fats, compared with 9 per cent in people in the control groups.

They also found that taking more long-chain omega 3 fats (including EPA and DHA), primarily through supplements probably makes little or no difference to risk of cardiovascular events, coronary heart deaths, coronary heart disease events, stroke or heart irregularities.

While oily fish is a healthy food, it is unclear from the small number of trials whether eating more oily fish is protective of our hearts.

Dr Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia

Cochrane lead author, Dr. Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia, said: “We can be confident in the findings of this review which go against the popular belief that long-chain omega 3 supplements protect the heart. This large systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods. Despite all this information, we don’t see protective effects.

“The review provides good evidence that taking long-chain omega 3 (fish oil, EPA or DHA) supplements does not benefit heart health or reduce our risk of stroke or death from any cause. The most trustworthy studies consistently showed little or no effect of long-chain omega 3 fats on cardiovascular health. On the other hand, while oily fish is a healthy food, it is unclear from the small number of trials whether eating more oily fish is protective of our hearts.”

More information about the Cochrane research can be found here.