Omega-3 fats, the ones you’ll find in oily fish such as tuna, mackerel and salmon, have become the focus of attention this week after a new review of existing literature found that supplementation in those who had already had a heart attack did not protect them against cardiovascular death. In a field where not a week goes by without another good reason to include more omega-3 in your diet this has proved big news with even the researchers accepting that their findings go against popular opinion.
So should you continue taking your fish oil supplement? The short answer is yes! Read on to find out more…
Fish oil is helpful for virtually all aspects of health including heart, brain, mood, joints, pain and inflammation, pregnancy, child development and may even help to support healthy gut bacteria, so why has this new interpretation of existing data shown otherwise?
Firstly, most of the trials they used in the review were conducted on patients who had already had a heart attack. A first heart attack is often fatal and surviving patients need a dedicated and specific programme to manage their care. Research into fish oil in this secondary care model is less promising than research into those who have not yet had a heart attack. The majority of research shows that good omega-3 intake can help to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death in otherwise healthy individuals. As well as this, there are lots of research reviews that show other cardiovascular benefits to those taking a fish oil supplement who have not yet had a heart attack such as reducing blood pressure, triglyceride levels and reducing inflammation in general.
Secondly, research for alpha linolenic acid (ALA) was included, which comes from plants, along with the more commonly supplemented Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) which are found in fish and fish oil. When looking at EPA and DHA alone there is significant research to support cardiovascular benefits. Research into ALA is less conclusive and at high doses has even been associated with negative effects on cardiovascular risk factors. This is because EPA and DHA have different effects from ALA.
Current dietary guidelines to prevent cardiovascular disease encourage fish consumption (two portions of fish a week of which one should be oily) that would supply in the range of 0.2-0.4 g/d long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, rather than taking supplements. This study provides no evidence to suggest that this dietary advice should change. As we know, many people don’t meet the basic recommendations for fish consumption and choose to take a supplement instead.