Mixture of Omega-3s in Supplements May Reduce Heart Benefits


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A recent study reveals a nuance in the role of omega-3s in heart health. Photo editing by Stephen Kelly; Yulia Reznikov / Getty Images
  • Omega-3 supplements often contain a combination of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
  • Several clinical trials have shown that only high dose EPA supplements appear to reduce major adverse cardiovascular events.
  • A new study that measured omega-3s in people’s blood found that high levels of EPA were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events, while DHA appeared to counteract the beneficial effects of EPA.
  • The results suggest that combining EPA and DHA in a supplement may negate any potential heart health benefits.

Seafood – especially oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, and tuna – are a rich natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. There is ample evidence to suggest that people who eat seafood between one and four times a week are less likely die of heart disease than those who don’t.

Many people take supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids, believing that these will also help protect them against cardiovascular disease. However, the evidence from clinical trials examining the heart health benefits of these supplements has been mixed.

Some research suggests that only high doses of EPA appear to reduce the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure. However, a recent publication clinical test found no reduction in risk for people at high cardiovascular risk who took a supplement containing a combination of EPA and DHA.

The results of a new study, which the researchers presented at the virtual fair American College of Cardiology 2021 Conference, suggest a possible explanation.

Researchers at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, have found that although high levels of EPA in the blood are associated with a reduced risk of major heart events and death, l The increase in DHA levels seemed to negate these benefits.

“The advice to take omega-3s for the good of your heart is ubiquitous, but previous studies have shown that science doesn’t really support this for every omega-3,” says lead researcher Viet T. The, cardiovascular physician assistant at the institute.

“Our results show that not all omega-3s are the same and that EPA and DHA combined together, as they often are in supplements, can negate the benefits that patients and their doctors hope to achieve,” a- he added.

The team submitted the study for publication.

For their study, the researchers were inspired by Intermountain Healthcare INSPIRE Register, which includes approximately 35,000 blood samples from nearly 25,000 patients and their medical records.

They randomly selected 987 people who had received a first heart scan at Intermountain Healthcare between 1994 and 2012 and quantified their plasma levels of EPA and DHA.

The average age of those included was 61.5 years. At the time of their exam, 41% were obese and 42% had severe coronary heart disease.

Over the next 10 years, 31.5% of all patients had a major adverse cardiovascular event, which the team defined as death from all causes, heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.

Researchers found that people with the highest levels of EPA in their blood at the time of their first exam were less likely to have a major cardiovascular event.

However, increasing DHA levels appears to mitigate the beneficial effects of EPA.

Those with more DHA than EPA in their blood had an increased risk of heart problems compared to those with higher levels of EPA.

These associations remained after taking into account pre-existing diseases, namely severe coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure.

“Based on these and other findings, we can still tell our patients to eat foods high in omega-3s, but we shouldn’t recommend them in pill form as supplements or even in the form of omega-3 products. prescription combined (EPA + DHA) ”, concludes Le.

The said Medical News Today that the data available from the INSPIRE registry did not allow researchers to determine whether people were getting their omega-3s from their diet, from their supplements, or from a combination of the two.

However, he pointed out that two randomized clinical trials found cardiac benefits for EPA supplements alone, while four showed no benefits for combinations of EPA and DHA.

He noted that these trials were for pharmaceutical grade supplements, while “ready-to-use” omega-3 products are unlikely to meet such high purity standards. Additionally, commercial supplements do not give consumers the option of taking EPA without DHA.

Le admitted that the relative levels of omega-3s his team found in participants’ blood might reflect another dietary or physiological factor (a “confusingWhich also influenced their heart health risks.

“Yes, it’s still possible,” Le said. “This is a prospective analysis of retrospective data and, therefore, some confusion may arise.”

Andrea Wong, Ph.D., senior vice president in charge of scientific and regulatory affairs at Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) – a trade association that represents the supplement industry – said that “a great deal of evidence” supports the benefits of EPA and DHA for heart health.

She cited a recent analysis which pooled data from 17 studies and found that higher circulating levels of EPA and DHA, separately and together, were associated with a lower risk of premature death and death from cardiovascular disease.

Dr Wong said Medical News Today:

“Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA can help support heart health, but it is one of the many healthy habits for maintaining a healthy heart. CRN recommends that high-risk consumers or those with a history of cardiovascular disease discuss with their cardiologist which supplements are suitable for them.

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