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Salmon has long been known and marketed as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Salmon has long been known and marketed as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids may not have the preventive effect against myocardial infarction (heart attack) previously thought. Fish Farming Expert’s Norwegian sister site, Kyst.no, has talked to a programme leader at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research (IMR) about the surprising findings.

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The European Medicines Agency has recently established that omega-3 fatty acids do not protect against heart attacks, and therefore state that they are removing their recommendation to take omega-3 to prevent new heart attack events.

“There were large studies about 20 years ago, which indicated that omega-3 fatty acids could protect against heart attack complications, but since then, new studies have emerged that state that it has no effect,” stated medical director Steinar Madsen of the Norwegian Medicines Agency to the website Dagens medicinin.no. 

Livar Frøyland says it is too early to fully conclude what the effects of omega-3 are. Photo: IMR
Livar Frøyland says it is too early to fully conclude what the effects of omega-3 are. Photo: IMR

The recommendation from the European Medicines Agency is now being forwarded to the EU Commission.

Livar Frøyland, programme leader for safe and healthy seafood at the IMR, told Kyst.no that he was surprised by the findings, as there have been so many studies previously that have shown the opposite.

“But I am not surprised that new research is being done that finds results other than previous studies,” he says. “There is always research that shows a beneficial effect, and some studies that show no effect and sometimes show an adverse effect. 

“When it comes to cardiovascular disease and omega-3 fatty acids, there has been a very large research activity and there have been many studies on this particular subject. But then, there have been some recent studies that do not find the same effect to prevent cardiovascular disease as previous research has shown.”

Exciting results

Frøyland believes that there is still a way to go when it comes to documenting and mapping of omega-3 and the effect it can have on various diseases.

“I think it is exciting to have new research on this topic so we take it on board, but at the same time I feel we need even more research on this topic before we really conclude that this is no longer the case,” says. 

“It is heavy news when the European Medicines Agency concludes that they no longer recommend omega-3 fatty acid medications to prevent further complications after myocardial infarction. But at the same time, this is a pharmaceutical office, and this is about documentation as a drug.”

What has been most strongly documented about the effects of omega-3, he points out, is preventing sudden death from cardiac arrest, and to some extent prevention against cardiovascular disease.

“What I understand they are referring to is the absence of a preventive effect against further complications after a heart attack or to prevent a second heart attack; that is different than generally preventing heart disease,” he says.

Still positive for seafood

Frøyland believes that the new studies and the summaries of knowledge have value but points out that there has been so much previous study that it is too early to put draw absolute conclusions.

“It will be very exciting to see the explanation why the omega-3 fatty acids do not act as a prophylactic to prevent cardiovascular disease, as previous studies have concluded it does. The research is constantly evolving and that is what is so fascinating about doing this. One learns something new all the time,” he points out.

This case, he says, is about omega-3 fatty acids as single substances, that is, as a dietary supplement or more precisely as a drug for patients.

“I don’t know anyone who has shown that lean and oily fish no longer have a health-promoting effect. The omega-3 fatty acids have been used as a marker for seafood intake as well as a standard bearer of the positive health effect of eating seafood. Fish and other seafood also contribute a number of other important nutrients such as iodine, vitamin D and high-quality proteins. There is therefore a need for research to understand the health effects of eating seafood, not just individual components,” Frøyland concludes. 

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