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Is Fish Oil to Prevent Heart Attacks a Dud?

The VITAL study looked at fish oil to prevent heart attacks. The results were mostly disappointing, but fewer people taking fish oil died of heart attacks.
Is Fish Oil to Prevent Heart Attacks a Dud?
Fish oil capsules, close-up

In addition to vitamin D3, the VITAL study also considered the effects of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil to prevent heart attacks (NEJM, Nov. 10, 2018). The results were disappointing. Concentrated fish oil at a dose of 1 gram per day was no more effective than placebo for preventing cardiovascular catastrophes including strokes. (The investigators provided people with Omacor, a prescription fish oil, or a look-alike placebo.) People taking fish oil were just as likely to die from cancer as those in the placebo arm.

Is Taking Fish Oil to Prevent Heart Attacks a Complete Waste of Effort?

Despite the similar results for the combination of cardiovascular events that the investigators counted as their primary endpoint, fewer people taking fish oil had fatal heart attacks. Participants who were not eating much fish in their regular diets appeared to get more benefit. So did African American volunteers.

Side Effects of Fish Oil to Prevent Heart Attacks:

There were no differences in the unpleasant symptoms such as digestive distress or bleeding reported by people in both groups. Overall, however, the results of fish oil supplementation were disappointing.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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