Taking fish oil supplements for the heart? Think again

New study finds it doesn’t prevent heart disease
Sep 02, 2021
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Fish oil was thought to benefit heart health. But according to a new study, it does not help reduce the risks of heart disease

“Fish oil was considered beneficial for the heart,” Dr Fahad Khan, a cardiologist and researcher in Karachi, told SAMAA Digital. “But in this study, it was found to cause irregular heartbeat in people with high risk of heart disease.”

The Cleveland Clinic study involved 13,078 patients, who were given fish (omega-3) and corn oil supplements daily for two years. The study was stopped early because there was no difference between the two groups, and no benefits of fish oil were observed.

Instead, 67% of the participants who took the fish oil experienced an irregular heartbeat, indicating that these supplements increase the risk of heart disease. The rate of eating disorders was also 25% higher in the omega-3 group.

According to Dr Steve Nissen, a cardiologist who worked on the study, fish oil may not be neutral, it may be “harmful” in some cases.

Misconceptions about blood pressure

Dr Khan talked about some of the most common misconceptions about high blood pressure that lead to increased morbidity.

“A number of patients I see take namak cheeni ka pani [salt and sugar solution] to lower high blood pressure,” he said. The wrong quantity of salt can not only increase your blood pressure, but sugar also raises blood glucose levels.

Vitamin C supplements are also common in low-income households. 

“There are patients who take these supplements just because their neighbour found them useful,” said Dr Khan. Taking supplements without a physician’s approval can be very serious in such cases.

He said that a “heart-healthy” diet can help prevent risks of heart diseases and excessive use of medicines.

“It is important that the diets of high-risk patients include vegetables, fresh and dry fruit. A 45-minute daily exercise can also help a lot.”

Previous studies on fish oil

Dr Khan said that a number of pharmaceutical and cooking oil companies benefited from the previous researches that supported the use of fish oils for heart problems. 

“An individual’s response to certain nutrients is always evolving,” he said. “Neither fish oils nor Vitamin D is beneficial for the heart today as previously thought to be.”

Fish oil prevented major heart events in patients with coronary artery disease, according to previous studies. In coronary artery disease, the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to our heart become narrow due to plaque and cannot deliver oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.

The US Food and Drug Administration had approved in 2019 a fish oil-based drug for heart attack and stroke prevention.

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