Omega-3 Supplements

New research from the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City finds that higher EPA blood levels alone lowered the risk of major cardiac events and death in patients, while DHA blunted the cardiovascular benefits of EPA. Higher DHA levels at any level of EPA, worsened health outcomes. (Credit: Intermountain Healthcare)

SALT LAKE CITY — Fish oil pills are one of the most popular dietary supplements, particularly because they support better brain and heart health. But could some supplements be worse for your heart than believed? According to a new study, some Omega-3 supplements actually do more harm than good.

Scientists at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City report that high levels of one of the fatty acids commonly contained in the products are linked to a higher risk of heart problems. While another ingredient did improve heart health, its effects were “blunted” when found in the combination, according to the study.

The researchers behind the findings now say doctors should not be recommending Omega-3 supplements to their patients. Instead, they say, Omega-3 rich foods like fatty fish is a much healthier option. Using data from nearly 1,000 patients collected over a 10-year period, the study examines the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

“The advice to take Omega-3s for the good of your heart is pervasive, but previous studies have shown that science doesn’t really back this up for every single omega-3,” says Viet Le, a cardiology researcher at the institute, in a statement. “Our findings show that not all omega-3s are alike, and that EPA and DHA combined together, as they often are in supplements, may void the benefits that patients and their doctors hope to achieve.”

Researchers used the INSPIRE registry, an Intermountain Healthcare database started in 1993 that has more than 35,000 blood samples from nearly 25,000 patients. They identified 987 patients who underwent their first documented coronary angiographic study at Intermountain Healthcare between 1994 and 2012. From those blood samples, the circulating levels of EPA and DHA in their blood was measured.

Researchers then tracked those patients for 10 years, looking for major cardiac problems, including heart attack, stroke, heart failure requiring hospitalization or death. They found that patients with the highest levels of EPA had reduced risk of major heart problems.

However, they found that higher DHA reduced the benefit of EPA. In particular, they found patients with higher levels of DHA than EPA were more at risk for heart problems.

“Based on these and other findings, we can still tell our patients to eat Omega-3 rich foods, but we should not be recommending them in pill form as supplements or even as combined EPA and DHA prescription products,” says Le. “Our data adds further strength to the findings of the recent REDUCE-IT (2018) study that EPA-only prescription products reduce heart disease events.”

The study is being presented at the 2021 American College of Cardiology’s Scientific Session.

SWNS writer William Janes contributed to this report.

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