oega-3 fish oil

Not All Omega-3 Supplements Are Created Equal    

If you have cardiovascular disease (CVD) or are at a higher risk for it, your healthcare professional may have recommended taking an omega-3 dietary supplement, often referred to as “fish oil”. Omega-3 fatty acids are referred to as essential fatty acids because while they are necessary to support a healthy heart and other vital systems like the brain,  our bodies do not produce them naturally. Thus, we have to depend on dietary sources and/or supplements to maintain the proper omega-3 levels necessary for good health.

Increasing Omega-3s Through Diet

Many people are aware that fish are an excellent source of omega-3s, but what people may not realize is that not all fish contain adequate amounts of these essential nutrients. Oily, ocean fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. So, that tilapia you ordered at your favorite restaurant last week, while healthy, has only small amounts of omega-3s for your heart health. Salmon, anchovies, sardines and tuna, on the other hand, are great examples of fish rich in omega-3s. The American Heart Association endorses the consumption of fish and their omega-3 fatty acids as an important component of a heart healthy diet.

A May 2021 Harris Poll of more than 2,000 adults, including healthcare professionals, sponsored by Amarin, showed that omega 3’s and other supplements continue to garner strong public interest. However, the medical community is beginning to voice apprehension over the benefits of some omega-3s in supporting heart health.

Surprising Research About Fish Oil Supplements

Adding oily, ocean fish to your regular diet is an excellent first step toward improving CV health. Often healthcare providers suggest a dietary supplement such as fish oil to increase omega-3 intake for those not getting enough of this essential nutrient by eating fish. However, peer-reviewed research conducted in my laboratory has demonstrated that many popular fish oil supplements contain variable amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and, in many cases, contain other types of oil, such saturated fat, that are considered unhealthy for people with CVD.

Statins Alone May Not Be Enough

While statins are a well-established standard of care for heart patients, taking statins can sometimes lull people into a false sense of security, thinking that’s all they need to do.  Even in patients who are well treated with statin therapy, there are still high rates of CVD. This is referred to as residual risk and it’s especially a challenge among people who have already experienced a heart attack or stroke.

There is a prescription formulation of omega-3s, icosapent ethyl or IPE, that has been clinically proven to provide heart protection when added to a statin, including a 25% reduction in serious CVD events like heart attacks and strokes. Many may not know that people who have experienced a previous heart attack are 75% more likely to have another cardiac event within three years even if they are taking a statin. So, while not a replacement for a statin, IPE offers significant additional benefits for CV health when combined with a statin, especially for patients with elevated CVD risk, such as those that have already had a stroke or heart attack.

If you are healthy and want to help prevent heart disease in the future, I recommend eating oily fish, such as salmon or sardines, at least twice a week. If you are at elevated risk or have experienced a prior heart attack or stroke, and are currently taking a statin, talk with your healthcare provider to discuss other therapeutic options that may be appropriate for you.

Photo by Leohoho on Unsplash

Dr. Preston Mason

View posts by Dr. Preston Mason
For the past twenty years, Dr. Preston Mason has severed as a faculty member of the Cardiovascular Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Dr. Mason is also President and co-Founder of Elucida Research, a biotechnology research institute. He has received many awards for his research in cardiovascular pharmacology and teaching over the past 30 years, including an honorary doctorate in science. Dr. Mason serves as a consultant for industry including for Amarin, Corp.

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