Fish oil supplements and heart health

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Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a cardiologist, was interviewed on NBC Nightly News on September 12, 2012 about a new study on fish oil supplements that suggests they may not be as healthy for the heart as people think.

Researchers at the University of Ioannina Medical School in Greece combined 20 previous studies involving more than 68,000 patients since 1989. Overall, the authors concluded that fish oil supplements—which contain omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fat found in fish—do neither harm nor good. They found that the supplements did not significantly reduce people’s risk of mortality, cardiac death, sudden death, heart attack, or stroke.

The study, which appeared in the September 12, 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association, is one of a number of recent studies questioning fish oil’s benefits.

Interpreting the study results differently than the authors, Mozaffarian told NBC Nightly News that, “If you focus on cardiac death, which is the outcome most likely influenced by fish oil, there is a significant benefit for that outcome.” He added, “I recommend to patients that they eat fish as a first-line measure. If they don’t like fish, or if they really want to be sure they’re getting omega-3s, there’s no harm to taking fish oil, and it certainly might help.”