Does Fish Oil Really Help Your Heart?


ISLAMABAD, Dec 18 (Online): Does high-strength fish oil help the heart or doesn’t it?
Prior research into a prescription medicine derived from fish called Vascepa, announced earlier this year, suggested it might be of real value for heart patients.
But the results from a trial of another such drug called Epanova, released Sunday, are disappointing: Researchers found no benefit from taking the medicine for a wide range of heart health outcomes, compared to taking a placebo pill containing only corn oil.
“Many people continue to take fish oil supplements to prevent heart disease. However, the fish oil medication we tested in the [new] trial was not effective for that purpose,” co-researcher Dr. A. Michael Lincoff said in a news release from the American Heart Association.
He’s vice chairman for research in the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute.
The research was presented Sunday at the AHA’s virtual annual meeting. It was also published simultaneously in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The new study was funded by AstraZeneca, which makes Epanova. AstraZeneca announced Friday that it was halting the phase III trial, based on disappointing results.
The conflicting results from trials of the two different prescription-strength medicines, Vascepa and Epanova, throws confusion on whether or not heart patients really benefit from the nutrient.
“The question of whether omega-3 fatty acids improve health is important to patients, physicians, and the health care system,” noted Dr. Gregory Curfman, who penned an editorial on the trial. “Even in the COVID-19 era, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.”
“Given the current uncertain state of knowledge, neither patients nor physicians can be confident that omega-3 fatty acids have any health benefits ,” he said.
That probably won’t stop Americans from buying the supplements: “In 2019, the global market for omega-3 fatty acids reached $4.1 billion and is expected to double by 2025,” Curfman noted.
The new study focused on Epanova, which contains a combination of two omega-3 carboxylic acids — eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA].
More than 13,000 patients, treated at centers around the world, were given either Epanova or a placebo pill containing corn oil. All patients had conditions putting them at at “high cardiovascular risk.” For example, they were being treated with cholesterol-lowering statins and had either blockages of the coronary arteries, or arteries in the brain or legs, or were at risk for heart disease because of conditions such as diabetes or lifestyle risk factors like smoking.
Enrollment into the trial began in 2014. The trial was terminated in January of 2020, Lincoff’s group said.
Over that period of time, over 1,600 patients experienced some kind of cardiac event . But the use of Epanova did not decrease deaths from heart disease, heart attack, stroke, the need for stents or bypass surgery, or being hospitalized for angina.