Stop taking omega-3 to prevent heart attacks?
September 14, 2012 3:25 AM   Subscribe

Should people no longer take omega-3 supplements to reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular events?
posted by pracowity to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The title of that study made me think that omega-3s might be harmful, but the study concludes that they are simply not helpful (according to the abstract, I don't have full text access).

So, there are some studies that show a cardiovascular benefit, and some studies that show no benefit but no problems created by the omega-3/fish oil either. There are also other reasons to take omega-3 supplements (skin, possibly good for brain). So - if there's a possibility that they're helpful, and no evidence that they're harmful, why stop taking them?
posted by insectosaurus at 3:44 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

So - if there's a possibility that they're helpful, and no evidence that they're harmful, why stop taking them?

Well, if you're taking them specifically for heart problems, this report appears to indicate that you're wasting your time and money, because earlier reports were wrong.

And if you're taking them for other reasons (brain, skin, etc.), claims of any other purported benefits appear to be based on rather weak or inconclusive evidence.

Normally I wouldn't even bother with snake fish oil claims like this ("It can lower your cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure, protect you from heart attacks, ease joint pains, fight wrinkles and skin ailments, and improve your memory."), but an otherwise reliable doctor has been pushing them on me (prior to this report, however), and I would rather hear some other (IANYD, etc.) MD opinions than just reject his recommendation out of hand.
posted by pracowity at 6:13 AM on September 14, 2012

What I understand about it is that it has a lot to do with the proportions of o-3 to o-6 in your diet. If the proportions are off, even if the amounts are high, you get no benefits.
posted by gjc at 6:31 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Full article. The text is quite skeptical ("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 [polyunsaturated fatty acids] administration."), but their bottom line (Figure 4, last row) is an estimated 4 percent reduction in mortality (Relative Risk=0.96). However, the 95 percent confidence interval is (0.91-1.02). Given the relatively low cost, an expected mortality reduction of 4 percent seems to me a good enough reason to keep taking them.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:56 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fish oil is supplementation, not a miracle cure or a medicine. The real question is, what is your omega-3 intake without it? Considering how poorly we Americans eat, especially in regards to shoving carbs into us and avoiding protein, fats, oily foods (fish), etc it might be helpful to take some type of omega-3 supplement.

These recent findings have been in line with other studies. I think as far as cadio events go, fish oil is most helpful for those who have already suffered one. It may not be a preventative measure. I'm not surprised to see this study.

>Normally I wouldn't even bother with snake fish oil claims like this

Omega-3 is something you body needs and responds well to. Imagine if you lived in a culture with a shortage of vitamin C or D. You'd read about all the things those vitamins do and say "Wow, what a load of crap!"

FWIW, I went on fish oil and my cholesterol levels dropped. I went from high to normal in 18 months. My diet is largely unchanged, if anything, I'm eating more red meat and eggs than ever.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:03 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who is still recovering from a "heart event", I personally am following my cardiologists and surgeon's advice: Omega-3 = good, Omega=6, not so much. Which is not to say Omeage-6 is "bad", it's just not as "good".

The surgeon held my heart in his hands. I'm doing great just a short time later. His credibility rating with me is high. YMMV.
posted by jeporter99 at 7:48 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fish oil = less painful joints = more exercise = better cardiovascular health.


Fish oil supports healthy brain function = better decision-making about health issues.
posted by cda at 8:33 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Omega's are also very helpful for reducing hot flashes and night sweats for menopausal women. In the quest for a restful nights sleep they have been a godsend!
posted by cat_link at 9:23 AM on September 14, 2012

I would take a more subtle view than "all previous reports were wrong". This is a meta-analysis where it essentially uses data from previously published reports on this topic and using some fancy, but well-validated, statistical techniques to merge them to get a picture of where the evidence stands right now.

Mr. Know-it-some is right in that there is a small decrease in the relative risk in all-cause mortality but it is not statistically significant. What this means is that the effect is small and that given the current state of the evidence there is not enough statistical power (i.e. # of subjects studied) to be confident that it is NOT due to random statistical fluctuation.

However, regarding cardiac-related deaths, the relative risk is 0.91 (CI, 0.85 to 0.98), which means that compared to the control group, there is a 9% reduction in the proportion of deaths resulting from cardiac-related causes from taking these omega-3 supplements.

The bottom line is that it doesn't seem to cause harm and provides a small benefit in terms of cardiac-related deaths. If you want to spend the money to buy these supplements, it doesn't hurt but just be aware that it may not provide any benefit in terms of overall mortality but a small benefit in terms of cardiac-related deaths.

That's my quick take.
posted by scalespace at 9:49 AM on September 14, 2012

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