The People's Perspective on Medicine

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.
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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Terry Graedon- I am perplexed that you do not put your own opinion on the studies?

I am no expert on fish oil. All I can say is that I can no longer tolerate the bloating, pain, and gas that afflicts me when I take just one fish oil capsule a day. I am miserable when taking the oil and can’t seem to build up a tolerance for it. It’s not worth it to me to take fish oil, though I really thought it would be beneficial.

Your article on fish oil a few weeks ago led one to believe it contributed to atrial fib. How can it be good for preventing strokes when that is often the result with atrial fib?

Thank You for sharing the research. This is not so easily found except in 5-second passing comments on the television. Whether we agree or not or like the results or research methodology, your publishing of the study is a great service to the public.

Concerning the data, I have many questions. I believe the key word is “supplement,” and a good diet is primary and is always more important.
I prefer fresh Florida fish fillet over prescription fish oil any day of the week.

Well, the only comment I have is that I’ve been taking 2 grams of Fish Oil a day now for more than 40 years. At the age of 81, I look around at all my friends with all their major health problems and wonder if the only difference is the Fish Oil I have been taking.
Most certainly, the fish oil does reduce Triglycerides, [a proven fact] so the other questions is, what other type of lipids does it affect ???
Obviously this study is of NEGATIVE importance. I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing until I can’t any more !!!!

What about the effect of fish oil on dementia and Alzheimers?

Again, why are we not looking at dose? ‘1 gram of fish oil’ does not say how concentrated it is– how much EPA, how much DHA? By checking into the actual study, we find that this particular product contained 460 mg of EPA and 380 mg DHA–more concentrated than the typical 180 mg EPA/120 mg DHA found in non-concentrated 1 mg pills of fish oil.

However, many positive studies of fish oil use EPA (the component that helps with inflammation) doses ranging from 650mg to 1500 mg/ per day. (Similarly, positive studies of DHA for the brain have used doses up to 900 mg DHA per day.) We need to be looking at dose when we draw these conclusions.

It is amazing how these studies always seem to want to show little effect. But then one should not take pills but eat fish. If your allergic to fish that tells me you GIT is not healthy and the other foods you eat are not healthy either.
Must eat fish for good cardiac and mental health and I have been studying this for 35 years.
Taking a fish supplement is not going solve your health. Diet is medicine and not some processed supplement.

Totally agree that food should be the best way to go – if you eat non-processed and ideally organic. However, if that is not an option for whatever reason, supplements have got to be better than nothing if taken at the right dose. I am so happy that more and more people are looking into alternative treatments for themselves and with success.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^