Fish oil, and its high level of omega-3 fatty acids, has been proven reduce the risk of some forms of cancer, relieve joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, and lessen the effects of depression and other mental disorders. Omega-3 fats can also help with some forms of skin problems and has been reported to ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Now there are heart benefits as well.
An omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) study was conducted by Italian researchers to test the benefits of fish oil. They enlisted more than 7,000 people who had been diagnosed with heart failure, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and loses its ability to effectively pump blood around the body. Half of the participants were given a daily capsule of omega-3, in addition to their other daily medications, while the other half took a placebo. They were followed for an average of four years, during which 1,981 (27 percent) of the group taking omega-3 died of heart failure or were admitted to the hospital with cardiovascular problems, compared to 2,053 (29 percent) of the placebo group.
In a parallel study, the same team studied heart failure rates of 2,285 patients who were given the statin rosuvastatin, also known as Crestor, while 2,289 were given a placebo. After tracking the patients for an average of four years, the doctors found little difference in the death rate between the two groups. When they compared the results from both studies, the researchers concluded that omega-3 is slightly more effective than the drug because it performed better against a placebo. “Our study shows that the long-term administration of 1g per day of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid was effective in reducing both all-cause mortality and admissions to hospital for cardiovascular reasons,” said Professor Luigi Tavazzi from the research centre of the of the Italian Association of Hospital Cardiologists based in Florence.
This study confirms the results of previous studies that investigated the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, but they have largely been observational and have lacked a direct comparison to a placebo. “This study changes the certainty of the evidence we have about fish oils,” said Dr. Douglas Weaver, president of the American College of Cardiology. He said that guidelines in the U.S. would likely change to recommend more heart patients take supplements or eat more fish. “This is a low-tech solution and could help all patients with cardiovascular problems,” he said.
However, in an editorial accompanying the journal report, Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the positive trial results doesn’t mean that a statin should not be prescribed for someone with heart failure and high cholesterol, but “indicates that heart failure, in and of itself, should not be a reason to start a patient on a statin.” He also stressed that people with heart failure should not start taking fish oil supplements on their own. “They used a specific formulation, a prescription formulation. Heart failure is a very high-risk condition. It is absolutely critical for patients, whether it is a prescription medicine or modification of diet or a supplement, that they consult their physician,” he said.
Public health organizations recommend eating fish twice a week. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and anchovies are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, fish is not the only source. You should also consider other seafood, such as Pacific oysters, shrimp, mollusks and Alaskan king crab. Walnuts and flaxseed can also add substantial amounts of omega-3 to your diet, as can vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower. But the most certain prescription is to take a fish oil supplement, since it has specified doses of EPA and DHA, and can also alleviate concerns about fish being contaminated with mercury or PCBs.