Fish oils are the so-called good fat. It contains lots of omega-3 fatty acid. Over the years, the use of fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid as a nutritional supplement has become popular. In fact, omega-3 ranks among the top favorites in terms of nutritional supplements. Omega-3 is especially known for being good for the heart. Currently, several supplements in the form of highly purified omega-3 fatty acids is available commercially, such as Omacor and Lovaza in the US and Zodin in Europe.
German researchers at the University of Heidelberg investigated the benefits of fish oil capsule supplement in heart attack patients. The study included 3,800 people who have had heart attacks. Half of the group was given fish oil capsules. The other half was given placebo. The study was blinded, e.g. none of the participants knew which capsule they got. The results of the study after a year of follow up shows:
- fewer than 2% had suffered sudden cardiac death
- 4% had another heart attack
- fewer than 2% had suffered a stroke
- it made no difference whether these patients took fish oil or dummy capsules
The researchers explain that patients who have had a heart attack usually receive optimum medical care which includes medications, physiotherapy, and psychotherapy if necessary. Additional nutritional supplementation with omega-3 doesn’t seem to give additional benefits in terms of risk reduction.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in natural food products such as fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring). It is supposedly good for heart health because it lowers bad “LDL” cholesterol and increases good “HDL” cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish 2 times a week at least. For supplement capsules, 1 g of omega-3 is recommended. However, supplementation is not recommended for infants, nursing mothers, and pregnant women. It also elevates the risk for bleeding and is therefore counterindicated before surgery.
However, this is not the first study to question the health benefits of omega-3 supplements. A US FDA assessment cited the following as possible risks associated with omega-3 supplementations:
- Increased bleeding especially if the patient is on blood thinners like warfarin or aspirin.
- Impaired glycemic control among those with diabetes.
According to the authors
However, the researchers are quick to point out that the study results do not say anything whether omega-3 can do more harm than good. In other words, it is too soon to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Needless to say, we simply cannot undo what years of unhealthy lifestyle could to our health by just taking omega-3 supplements. It may be good for the heart, but it is far from the wonder drug that its marketers purport it to be.
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