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New Study Suggests That Fish Oil Supplements do not Prevent Heart Failure

Updated on April 9, 2014

How fish oil is perceived

When medical claims arise, scientists typically continue to research the issue to make sure that the claim is accurate. Unfortunately, a recent study found that fish oil supplements may not prevent heart failure as often as was once thought.

The Claim

In the past, experts claimed that taking a fish oil pill, which features omega-3 fatty acids, was a simple way to avoid heart disease. People also take it for diabetes, asthma and movement disorders. Some experts claim that it prevents extensive weight loss for people who take cancer drugs.

New Studies from The New England Journal

The New England Journal of Medicine printed a study showing that when people who are at a greater risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke take fish pills, it does not lower that risk.

The Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan completed the analysis. During the study, researchers assessed approximately 12,500 people who had not suffered from a stroke or a heart attack, but the test subjects did have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors such as obesity or diabetes.

In addition, the study’s participants had high blood pressure, and most of them were already taking medication to decrease their chances of developing heart problems. For the new fish oil assessment, the participants were divided into two groups randomly. One group took an omega-3 fatty acid supplement daily while the other group took a placebo featuring olive oil.

When the study reached the one-year mark, the researchers found that the primary end point had a low event rate. Therefore, they revised the study to include hospital admissions for cardiovascular events.

How it was conducted

“there is no need to add a long-term preventative treatment with omega-3 fatty acids in people with cardiovascular risk factors ....."

The study’s researchers followed the participants for five years and found that 1,400 of them had a stroke or a heart attack. The percentage of those who suffered a heart related incident while taking the supplement was 11.7 percent while 11.9 percent of those who were taking the placebo had a heart problem. Since the incident percentage was about the same in both groups, the study’s overseers determined that the fish oil supplement did not prevent heart related conditions from occurring.

One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Maria Carla Roncaglioni, stated, “there is no need to add a long-term preventative treatment with omega-3 fatty acids in people with cardiovascular risk factors that are controlled with evidence based treatments and a healthy lifestyle.”

In most cases, one study does not eliminate a health claim.

Furthermore, there have been hundreds of fish oil studies, and they show varying results. Despite the compelling outcome of the recent study, other experts may still find ways to criticize it. For instance, research has shown that olive oil is another substance that can help the heart. Therefore, the study may have been more conclusive if the analysis had included a different type of placebo. Another study issue was that it did not consider the patients’ diets.

The Results

After the test’s completion, researchers discovered several smaller findings. For instance, people who took the supplement gained a steeper drop in their triglycerides. In addition, fewer of them visited the hospital for heart related incidents. The study also found that women had a smaller amount of heart related incidents overall. Also, the women who were taking the fish oil supplement had the lowest heart related occurrences of all of the participants.

The study’s researchers said “it is conceivable that the effects of the omega-3 fatty acids become manifest primarily in patients who are particularly prone to ventricular arrhythmic events. Our trial had extremely limited power to detect a reduction in sudden deaths from cardiac causes or arrhythmic events.”

Do You Take an Omega-3 Supplement Daily?

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So What Are the Benefits of Omega-3?

Omega-3 may be helpful for those who are in heart failure or have already suffered a heart attack. Italian researcher Dr. Gianni Tognoni, who works for Milan’s Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche, reported that omega-3 fatty acids can stop irregular heart rhythms that may occur after a patient has a heart problem.

However, he also said, “Don’t trust too much on drugs that attempt to mimic lifestyle changes.” According to the American Heart Association, only people who have triglycerides in their blood, which is a high amount of fats, benefit from taking fish oil capsules.

Many people take fish oil to prevent depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer’s disease while others use it for their eyes.

Some Proven Methods for Decreasing the Risk of Heart Disease

Eating fish does protect people from heart disease. Furthermore, the Heart Association advises people to eat fish at least twice a week. To decrease the chance of developing heart disease, people can stop smoking, eat smaller portions of food and reduce the amount of saturated fats that they ingest.

Be sure to keep blood pressure in an appropriate range. Also, eat a well-rounded diet and exercise regularly as a supplement will never take the place of healthy living.

What does your blood pressure reading mean?

Top number (systolic) in mm Hg
Bottom number (diastolic) in mm Hg
Your category*
What You Should Do*
Below 120
Below 80
Normal blood pressure
Maintain or adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Maintain or adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Stage 1 hypertension
Maintain or adopt a healthy lifestyle. If blood pressure goal isn't reached in about six months, talk to your doctor about taking one or more medications.
160 or more
100 or more
Stage 2 hypertension
Maintain or adopt a healthy lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about taking more than one medication.
This table data is courtesy of

5 Quick Tips for A Healthy Heart

  1. Keep track of your blood pressure
  2. Exercise every day
  3. Eat well and clean
  4. Keep your other body parts healthy!
  5. Drink lots of water


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    • healthyfitness profile image

      Rick Grimes 3 years ago

      Hey Jackie,

      No doubt they are still very beneficial and belong in anyone's daily diet!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      They help me with knee pain I can tell you! If I happen to miss two or three days I am sorely reminded. Studies flip flop and perhaps it will not prevent a heart attack but it apparently is doing something good.