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Fish Oil for Heart Health?

Question:
Is it true that there is no point in taking fish oil supplements for heart health?
Reviewed and edited by Tod Cooperman, M.D. Tod Cooperman, M.D.
Initial Posting: 4/4/2015    Last Update: 1/26/2020
Fish Oil for Heart Health? -- fish oil capsules and stethoscope
Answer:
Yes and no. It depends on the person and the fish oil.

Taking fish oil supplements has generally not been shown to prevent heart attacks or stroke in people who have heart disease, nor has it been shown to prevent heart disease in healthy people. (There is evidence, however, that fish oil supplements can be beneficial for other conditions, including inflammatory diseases, eye disease, and mental health disorders). However, among people who have high levels of triglycerides (which contributes to total cholesterol), high-dose, high-concentration fish oil, such as from prescription fish oils, may be beneficial, as they can lower triglyceride levels. However, only one prescription fish oil has been found to reduce the risk of first-time heart attack, stroke or other major cardiac event among statin-treated adults with persistently elevated triglycerides.

Keep in mind that having high blood levels of omega-3s and regularly consuming fish high in omega-3s (such as tuna and salmon, anchovies, and mackerel) is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. In one long-term study, for example, healthy older people who were not taking fish oil supplements but had higher blood levels of omega-3s were found to be 40% less likely to have a heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends consuming at least 1 to 2 fish servings of non-fried, preferably oily fish, per week to reduce the risk of cardiac death, coronary heart disease, and ischemic stroke (the most common type of stroke).

For more details and about fish oil and heart health, see the Heart attack and stroke section of the Fish Oil Supplements Review.

Learn More About Fish Oil Supplements



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COMMENTS

Nanci16624   March 25, 2018
I'm glad to see consumer lab is in fact following the research carefully! It's true the largest RCTs to date have not shown any protective effects of fish oils on CVD / heart health. Matter of facts there are numerous legal cases $$$ in progress regarding health claims made on fish oils re heart/mental health. Seems the evidence lies in fish consumption, which leads us to suspect 'fish eaters' are active in other health-promoting behaviours via diet: maybe fish with rice and salad/veggies versus meat and potatoes(?), physical activity, being outdoors...(fishing?!). Most studies try to control for these potential confounders, but science has not perfect models. Take home: more often than not it usually circles back to a healthy diet/lifestyle, and no quick (supp) fix! ;)

Robert650   April 6, 2015
For Omega 3's I take 2 tablespoons of milled flaxseed daily mixed with vegetable juice rather than fish oil. Flaxseed also contains the highest amount of lignans and healthy source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Bill12780   March 5, 2017
Flax seed oil needs to be converted into the active oil forms. This is done by the enzyme delta-6-desaturase. There is not enough of this enzyme to convert the flax oil into the active EPA/DHA forms, so it is not useful for this purpose. It IS valuable for its lignan content, and the ground up seeds have a useful quantity of fiber. If people mill their seeds ahead of time they must keep the powder refrigerated to avoid oxidation.

ConsumerLab.com   March 6, 2017
Hi Robert and Bill - Please see the information we've added to this CL Answer about alternatives to fish oil for more about flaxseed oil: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/_/vegan-epa-dha/

Andrew649   April 6, 2015
Why do they add very high amounts of sodium to anchovies? Doesn't this make them a bad choice to get the omega 3?

Spencer645   April 5, 2015
Based on the overwhelming majority of recent studies that I have been made aware of, the simple fact is that there is no substitute for incorporating nutrients in their natural, unprocessed and unadulterated form — in other words, as foods. Isolating single ingredients, whether fish oil, beta carotene, vitamin E, or what have you, seems to at best result in an ineffective (and usually quite costly) non-solution, or at worst, a dangerous proposition. Many of these isolated ingredients, in comprehensive double-blind studies, actually seem to present very real health risks to those who take them — so much so that some of the studies have been halted mid-stream for fear of harming the participants. This really calls into question the entire supplement industry and its massive public relations arm. The clear evidence is, it is better to get your nutrients from real food, preferably food that has not been processed or tampered with in any way. So instead of focusing on whether a vitamin has 30 mg, as claimed, or only 28 mg, of its claimed amount, I think we might better focus on whether the billions spent yearly on supplements is benefiting anyone outside the industry's profit-takers. Curious to see if this will be published.

ConsumerLab.com   April 14, 2015
Hi Spencer - It is true that, in general, it is better to get vitamins and nutrients from food, rather than supplements. There are, however, some exceptions - vitamin and mineral deficiencies may require supplementation, for example, and certain B vitamins can be difficult to absorb from food. Please see the CL Answer about this: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers//natural_vs_synthetic_vitamin/.

Supplements can also provide ingredients such as CoQ10, melatonin, NAC, and herbs like St. John's wort, which cannot be obtained from food and may benefit specific medical conditions. If someone does need to use a supplement, it is important that it contain what is claimed on the label and be free of contaminants, unexpected ingredients, etc.

James11374   November 6, 2016
I find the Consumer Labs' response to be balanced when it says: 1) "In general, it's better to get vitamins and nutrients from food;" and 2) you can't always do that, in which case, supplements can be beneficial.

With due respect, references to "the industry's profit-takers" suggests a political viewpoint that sees making a living (i.e. making a profit) as somehow bad. It vilifies the people in the industry, but more importantly, closes one off from valid information. I don't know precisely why the author is "curious to see if this will be published." Perhaps he thinks Consumer Labs is part of some capitalist conspiracy to protect the profit-takers. Whatever the reason, it makes me think the author is coming from an extreme position, and negatively affects his credibility in my mind.

I applaud Consumer Labs' publication of the author's comment. It shows they publish all kinds of comments, even those that suggest the industry and the system are corrupt. It's important to stay open to hearing opinions that differ from one's own.

I like how Consumer Labs' response addresses the author's subtle slur on their character by saying what they do and why they do it: "If someone does need to use a supplement, it is important that it contain what is claimed . . . and be free of contaminants." The author should be relieved to know Consumer Labs is not whatever he thought it might be.

Kent12776   March 5, 2017
Well said.

Mary15160   June 19, 2017
Yes well said. I agree whole heartedly. While many of the tests don't apply to me because from Australia I don't get the brands. But I eagerly read the reviews.


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This CL Answer initially posted on 4/4/2015. Last updated 1/26/2020.
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