A study questioning the role of fish oil in preventing first heart attacks is making headlines – but a top cardiologist insists that no one should stop taking the supplement based on the new research.
“We have a long track record during which fish oil has proven effective,” Chauncey Crandall, M.D., tells Newsmax Health. “I’ve seen the effects this supplement has my patients, so I know that it works. I don’t trust this single study.” Dr. Crandall is chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Italian researchers say they found that taking a daily fish oil supplement had no overall effect on the risk of first heart attacks in patients at high risk for heart disease or in those who already have it. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The researchers did find that congestive heart failure patients taking fish oil have fewer hospitalizations.
Dr. Crandall noted that many other major fish oil studies have shown benefits, including one last year which found that women, who have smaller blood vessels, benefited, as did diabetics, who are at higher heart disease risk than others.
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, unsaturated fats that are believed to play a role in metabolism and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. They also have been shown to promote higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
“We know that fish oil lowers triglycerides quickly, and triglycerides are now being called ‘the ugly cholesterol’ because research shows this blood fat raises heart disease and stroke risk,” Dr. Crandall said.
In this latest study, many participants were already taking medications to reduce their heart attack risk, which could have blunted the effect of the fish oil.
“It’s very hard to show results from fish oil when you have a lot of other medications in the mix,” said Dr. Crandall. “In addition, studies consistently have confirmed that the Mediterranean diet lowers heart disease risk, and fish is a very important component in that eating plan.”
Another factor that may have skewed the results of the Italian study may have been the quality of the fish oil used, said Dr. Crandall. Last year, the Journal of Lipid Research evaluated hundreds of fish oil studies to root out the cause of inconsistent results. The analysis upheld the benefits of fish oil but also cited the difficulty in uniformity of fish oil as a reason why some patients benefit and some don’t. That’s why it’s important to buy fish oil from a reputable manufacturer, Dr. Crandall said.
Although he is a fish oil advocate, he points that taking the supplement, or any other pill, is not a substitute for lifestyle habits that prevent heart disease, including a healthy diet, daily exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.
“You can’t take a supplement and expect it to make up for an unhealthy lifestyle,” he said.
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