Omega-3 fatty acids in fish and supplements have been tied to a lower risk of developing heart disease especially in people already at elevated risk because of elevated blood triglycerides or bad LDL cholesterol, a research review suggests.
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish a week and considering supplements of omega-3 fatty acids when that’s not possible.
Previous research has linked omega-3s to a lower risk of abnormal heartbeats, lower triglycerides (fats) in the blood, reduced risk of artery-clogging plaque and slightly lower blood pressure.
For the current study, researchers examined previously published research (34 studies) on two omega-3s: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Omega-3 fats especially beneficial for people with heart risk factors
The collective evidence from all studies supports a beneficial role of EPA and DHA on coronary heart disease. What’s more, stronger associations were observed among those with risk factors.
The research team found that consumption of omega-3s in food or supplements was associated with a 16 percent lower risk of heart disease in people with high blood triglycerides and a 14 percent lower risk for those with elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
About the study
To examine the connection between omega-3s and heart disease, researchers analyzed data from 34 studies, including18 trials that randomly assigned about 93,000 people to get a certain amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
Across these randomized trials, they found omega-3s associated with a 6 percent lower risk of heart disease, but this was too small to rule out the possibility it was due to chance.
The study also reviewed results from another 17 previously published trials that observed about 732,000 people over long periods of time while they followed their usual diets. Over all of these studies, omega-3s were tied to a statistically meaningful 18 percent reduction in the risk of heart disease.
Limitations of the study include the wide variation in study designs for the randomized trials, which included patients with a range of eating habits and heart disease risk factors and tested omega-3s over different time periods.
Some studies in the current analysis also didn’t track heart health or the amount of omega-3s in people’s diets at the start, making it harder to determine how much these nutrients might directly influence heart disease risk over time.
Even so, the results from an analysis of data on close to one million patients suggest many people may benefit from boosting the amount of omega-3s they get from eating fish or taking supplements.
If you don't eat fish, consider omega-3 supplement
Very few people in the U.S. or other countries who follow a typical Western meat-and-potatoes diet eat enough fish, so they might need to take dietary supplements to achieve close to 1,000 milligrams a day of EPA and DHA, the equivalent of eating 12 ounces of salmon per week (e.g., three 4-ounce servings or two 6-ounce servings).
If you can’t eat fish or don’t like eating fish, consider taking a daily omega 3 supplement containing about 1,000 milligrams of EPA and DHA, combined.
Note: The study was funded by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), an advocacy group with manufacturers and sellers of omega-3 dietary supplements among its members. Several study authors have also served as consultants to manufacturers of omega-3 supplements.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.