By: Robert M. Blair, Ph.D.
Research showing the positive benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on human health continues to grow. Two studies published just this fall both report that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduces the risk of cardiac death.
The first study was a meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled clinical trials, each specifically examining the effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for more than 6 months on the incidence of cardiac death . Data from nearly 72,000 subjects from these 14 trials were compiled and analyzed. In addition to a broad, overall analysis, a subset analysis was conducted to examine the impact of the number of omega-3 fatty acids consumed and to examine subsets of individuals at greater risk for cardiac death.
The results of this first study showed that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation (primarily EPA and/or DHA) in the form of dietary supplements or pharmaceutical concentrates was associated with an 8% lower risk for cardiac death overall. Additionally, the investigators discovered that (1) consumption of more than 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids per day was associated with a 29% reduction in risk, (2) supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids by individuals with high triglyceride levels reduced the risk of cardiac death by 17%, and (3) that omega-3 supplementation was also associated with a 17% lower risk in individuals with high LDL-cholesterol levels.
Researchers in the second study investigated the link between the consumption of omega-3 supplements (mostly cod liver oil) and coronary heart disease mortality in about 22,000 men and women between 39 – 79 years of age. In this study, supplement use was assessed at three different time points: 1993 – 1998, 2002 – 2004, and 2004 – 2011. Based upon these assessments, individuals were classified as either (1) non-supplement users, (2) non-omega-3 supplement users (individuals who used supplements other than omega-3 supplements), or (3) omega-3 supplement users (either singly or in combination with other supplements).
Overall, the results of this analysis showed that omega-3 supplement users had a 26% lower risk of death from coronary heart disease than non-supplement users. When examined more specifically for those who just used omega-3 supplements only, the risk of coronary heart disease mortality was decreased by 17% compared to non-supplement users. It was also reported that a lower risk for cardiac mortality was observed for those who consistently used omega-3 supplements and those who became omega-3 supplement users over time; however, the reduction in risk was lost in those who stopped taking Omega-3 supplements.
The results of these studies clearly show the benefits of omega-3 supplementation on the risk of cardiac mortality. Additionally, these data suggest the individuals at a higher risk for cardiac death and those that consume more than 1 g/day may receive the greatest benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. These data also suggest that taking omega-3 supplements on a consistent basis may be necessary to obtain the greatest benefits.
- Maki KC, Palacios OM, Bell M, Toth PP. Use of supplemental long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk for cardiac death: an updated meta-analysis and review of research gaps. Journal of Clinical Lipidology 2017; Article in Press.
- Lentjes MAH, Keogh RH, Welch AA, Mulligan AA, Luben RN, Wareham NJ, Khaw KT. Longitudinal associations between marine omega-3 supplement users and coronary heart disease in a UK population-based cohort. BMJ Open 2017; 7: e017471.