Among their suggestions was the use of fish oil supplements for these heart patients as well as a healthy diet to help prevent future heart-related events.
As you may know, fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which, when eating fatty fish, can relax the blood vessels, reduce blood clotting and inflammation and potentially stabilize heart rhythms.
Some concerns have been voiced by several heart experts, however, which I’ll share for your consideration.
1. The studies on the science behind fish oil (Omega 3) supplements, are varied and sometimes conflict with one another.
- More research needs to be done before confirming that they would cut a patient’s risks of future heart-related events.
2. Only one large clinical trial supports the concept that daily administration of 1 gram of a combination of EPA/DHA fish oil may benefit patients with coronary heart disease, who have had a heart attack.
- There are also studies of heart patients which have failed to confirm the benefits of the omega-3. While it’s possible some part of the studies were flawed, skewing the results, they leave the door open for reasonable doubt.
- Most importantly, we also don’t know for sure whether fish oil supplements are harmful — again because we have no strong evidence to support or dispute that statement.
So, that mixed picture leads us to ask for more research before we make a “blanket recommendation” that heart patients take a supplement that may or may not be effective.
3. The supplements themselves have not been proven safe.
- Like all nutritional supplements, fish oil supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and do not go through the rigorous process of proving that they are safe and effective.
Instead, supplements are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has no scientific expertise and doesn’t even confirm whether the supplements actually contain the ingredients listed on their labels.
- When you take over-the-counter fish oil, you don’t know what you’re taking. The supplement may or may not contain the amount of fish oil that it’s alleged to contain, so many physicians don’t prescribe or recommend dietary supplements — particularly when there is no solid evidence of a benefit.
4. Fish oil supplements can have contaminants which may lead to questionable side effects.
5. Fish oil has a mild blood-thinning effect and supplements should not be taken by patients who are taking blood thinners or who bleed easily.
6. Some fish oils may be contaminated with mercury.
Some well-documented research has shown that a large proportion of supplements — perhaps as much as 40 % — contain contaminants, including lead, bacteria, and pesticides.
Eat fish, not pills
If you’re considering adding fish oil supplements to your diet, my advice is to have a good conversation with your doctor first.
Personally, however, I would not recommend that you put anything in your body without very good evidence of benefit, (which is why I cite references and research studies often in my articles).
Again, If you want more fish oil in your diet, simply eat more fish.
You need oily fish in your diet — especially as a replacement for red meats.
So, next shopping trip, walk right on past the red meat counter and instead, head to the seafood counter for a nice piece of salmon.
- The reward will be twice-fold: You’ll benefit from cutting your intake of unhealthy saturated fats from red meats, and you will be taking in heart-healthy fish oils the natural way.
If you don’t like fish, you can get plant-based omega-3 fatty acids from:
- Flaxseed (mix it in with your smoothies or sprinkle it on your cereal or yogurt)
- Walnuts (eat them as a snack instead of a candy bar)
- Green vegetables and some vegetable oils, including canola oil.
You can also make a salad dressing using flaxseed oil (or using 1/2 flaxseed oil and 1/2 heart-healthy olive oil) and adding your favorite spices.
Coming Up: A handy list of foods high in Omega 3’s.