Industry responds to recent study suggesting that fish oil usage elevates cardiovascular disease risk

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The researchers concluded that fish oil supplementation by healthy people may actually put them at risk of developing atrial fibrillation and stroke, while offering a benefit to those diagnosed with cardiovascular disease by reducing their risk of experiencing major adverse cardiovascular events.

Photo © iStockphoto.com/Juxtagirl

Photo © iStockphoto.com/Juxtagirl

A recent observational study published in BMJ investigated the impact regular supplementation of fish oil had on cardiovascular disease progression. Using data on 415,737 participants, aged 40-69 years, taken from the UK Biobank (UKBB) study, the researchers concluded that fish oil supplementation by healthy people may actually put them at risk of developing atrial fibrillation and stroke, while offering a benefit to those diagnosed with cardiovascular disease by reducing their risk of experiencing major adverse cardiovascular events. The study, which therefore suggests that fish oil supplementation may actually pose a risk to the public rather than be beneficial, has spurred negative headlines in the mainstream press.

Industry has been critical of the study and its conclusions. William S. Harris, PhD, president of the Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI), calls the negative headlines resulting from the study a “serious misrepresentation of, not only this specific study, but of the field at large.” Harris notes that the study’s results are in complete contrast the body of evidence demonstrating that fish oil may reduce the risk of heart disease. This means that more evidence exists showing that fish oil supplementation is beneficial for reducing the risk of heart disease than there is saying the opposite. One study is not enough to draw far-reaching conclusions.

Additionally, Harris explains in a press release that this current BMJ study used the same dataset as a previous study conducted by Li et al. that found positive outcomes from fish oil supplementation. This was not addressed by Chen et al. in this most recent study. The study by Chen et al. also used self-reported fish oil supplementation which is a much less objective measure of omega-3 intake and status, says Harris. The Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) points out as well that Chen et al. pooled all fish oil usage, regardless of dosage. This is in contrast to recent research utilizing the UKBB that found an inverse association between plasma omega-3 levels and the risk all cause and cardiovascular death.

“This new BMJ study seemingly takes omega-3 research a step back, especially given the sensational headlines it has generated,” said Harris. “The mainstream press conclusions from this study are simply overblown, disappointing and reckless. Fish oil isn’t the danger. These headlines are.”

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