Are Omega-3 Supplements Heart-Healthy?: Page 2 of 3

Nov 14, 2016

Italian researchers similarly found significant benefits in a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials involving 11 studies administering at least 1 g/day of omega-3 fatty acids for one year or more to patients with existing cardiovascular disease.8 Overall, the trials included 15,348 individuals with a history of cardiovascular disease. While no statistically significant effects were seen for all-cause mortality or stroke incidence, the meta-analysis revealed strong protection against cardiac death, sudden death, and myocardial infarction, indicating that daily doses of omega-3 fatty acids above 1 g may be increasingly beneficial.

Furthermore, in a meta-analysis led by Luc Djoussé from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA), researchers looked at seven prospective studies to assess the impact of fish intake and omega-3 fatty acid intake relative to the incidence of heart failure.9 After analyzing the data from the identified studies (which in total included 176,441 individuals), the authors concluded that higher marine omega-3 intakes were associated with a significantly lower risk of heart failure.

Given positive evidence like this, in April 2015 the association the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED; Salt Lake City) issued a statement summarizing the fact that 10 meta-analyses of gold-standard, randomized clinical trials published between 2006 and 2014 all showed significant effects of omega-3 consumption for reduced cardiac death risk.10 The range of risk reduction was impressive, varying between 9%–35%.

Of course, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to reduce additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease as well, including triglyceride levels and blood pressure.


Triglyceride Reduction
With regard to triglyceride reduction, a recent review indicated that omega-3 fatty acids (average dose of 4 g/day) consistently lowered triglycerides by a range of 25%-34% in placebo-controlled clinical trials.11

In the United States, approximately 33% of the population has elevated triglyceride levels, which is considered an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A current meta-analysis evaluated the effects of triglyceride-lowering on cardiovascular disease risk and found that lowered triglycerides are consistently associated with cardiovascular risk reductions, indicating a protective effect against cardiovascular events.12


Blood Pressure Reduction
In terms of blood pressure, Anne Minihane and colleagues in the United Kingdom recently conducted a retrospective analysis of data from a multicenter, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial.13 During the trial, healthy men and women consumed fish oil containing 0.7 g or 1.8 g of EPA plus DHA daily for eight weeks. In those adults with isolated systolic hypertension, the 0.7-g dose led to clinically meaningful reductions in blood pressure averaging 5 mm Hg. The authors indicated that this magnitude of blood pressure reduction in middle-aged individuals is associated with an approximate 20% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Bo Yang and colleagues from Zhejiang University (Hangzhou, China) conducted a meta-analysis of eight prospective cohort studies involving 56,204 adults and found that higher circulating levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (and DHA in particular) were significantly associated with a lower risk of elevated blood pressure, indicating that optimal intake of omega-3s could potentially serve as a primary means of preventing hypertension.14

These findings are buttressed by an earlier meta-analysis of 70 randomized controlled trials, which indicated that supplementation with EPA and DHA led to significant reductions of systolic blood pressure, while higher doses (more than 2 g/day) also significantly reduced diastolic blood pressure.15

High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke16, and decreases associated with consuming omega-3s could lead to clinically meaningful risk reductions in this area.


Reconciling Current Findings
Research supports the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for reducing several risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. Why, then, do some researchers find potential discrepancies when analyzing the data, and, more importantly, how does one go about reconciling the divergence between positive and negative findings? Some experts have postulated several reasons for the seemingly disparate results.

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