Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help the heart heal itself after a heart attack, according to a new study.
High doses, derived from fish oil and taken daily for six months after a heart attack, helped reduce scarring in the heart muscle and increase its ability to pump blood, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found.
In two previous trials of fish oil for heart attack survivors, the results had been conflicting.
One trial found that the supplements did reduce the risk of death shortly after heart attack, while another found no benefit. Those trials administered one gram of the supplement per day.
For the new study, 360 heart attack survivors were randomly assigned to take either omega-3 supplements or a placebo, starting within a month of hospitalization and continued for six months.
Patients in the omega-3 group took four times the dose as those in the previous two trials: four one-gram capsules of Lovaza, a prescription fish oil, every day. The placebo group took corn oil capsules.
All patients received lifestyle counseling and were monitored by doctors to make sure their drug regimens did not interact adversely with additional fish oil or placebo pills. They had cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) before starting the capsules and after therapy six months later.
Fish oil group had less thickening, scarring of heart muscle
After six months, compared to the placebo group, those in the fish oil group had less fibrosis, or thickening and scarring, of the heart muscle in the region of the heart attack. The also had less blood left in the left ventricle of the heart after the heart muscle fully contracted, which means the heart was pumping more effectively.
Some people are better able to absorb and utilize fish oil, and those with the biggest increase in red blood cell levels of omega-3 levels had a 13 percent reduction in leftover blood in the left ventricle, compared to a 6 percent reduction for the fish oil group overall.
There was some concern that very high doses of fish oil would increase the risk of bleeding for patients who are already taking blood thinners and other medications after heart attack, but there were no adverse effects in the study.
Fish oil may stave off heart failure
The initial insult of a heart attack will damage a part of the heart muscle, which dies, so the rest of the heart muscle has to work extra hard. The heart pump function is weaker and scar tissue develops, and over time these two processes can lead to heart failure.
Though heart attack survival has greatly increased with improved treatments, heart failure later is still common.
Past research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation.
Based on these results, it seems logical that patients who take omega-3 supplements will have a lower risk of heart failure later than those in the placebo group, although this study didn’t look at that, the researchers said.
Eating fish cannot provide the same amount of omega-3 that patients got in this trial, although in general it’s not a bad idea to try to eat more fatty fish. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fatty fish like salmon or albacore tuna per week.
Source: Circulation, August 1, 2016.
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