According to a new US study taking omega-3 fatty acids seems to lower inflammation and guard against further declines in heart function among recent heart attack patients.
In the randomized controlled trial, 374 patients recovering from a heart attack and receiving standard treatment took either four grams of omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo daily (1). Blood work and cardiac imaging were analyzed at two to four weeks post-heart attack and again at six months. By using cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, researchers were able to look at changes in patients’ hearts and see the disease process before and after treatment. The study results showed that patients taking the omega-3 fatty acids were 39% less likely to show a deterioration of heart function as compared to patients taking a placebo. In addition, key markers of systemic inflammation, which were also more likely to be improved in those patients taking the fish oil. Patients who had a 5% increase in the amount of omega-3 fatty acid in their blood seemed to have the best chance of improving heart function (a 10% improvement in left ventricular remodeling).
The researchers commented that omega-3 fatty acids may have anti-inflammatory effects and also promote better cardiac healing. The intake of higher-dose omega-3 fatty acids was not found to be associated with any safety issues. The scientists said that it is unlikely patients could get the amount of omega-3 fatty acids from diet alone: the daily 4 gram dose is roughly equivalent to someone eating a large, 8-ounce serving of salmon every day for six months. The American Heart Association recommends that people eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week because of its potential heart benefits. However, most North Americans do not follow this advice, while Japanese populations with higher levels of omega-3 and an otherwise similar risk profile to North Americans have lower risks of heart disease and sudden cardiac death.