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How Fish Oil Can Improve Your Heart Health

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A recent study published in BMJ Medicine provides a detailed look at the effects of fish oil supplements on cardiovascular health. The study suggests that while regular use of these supplements might increase the risk of first-time heart disease and stroke in individuals with no prior cardiovascular issues, they could also slow the progression of existing cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of death for those already affected.

The research analyzed data from 415,737 participants in the UK Biobank study, aged 40 to 69, who were surveyed between 2006 and 2010. These participants’ health outcomes were tracked until March 2021 or their death. Among the participants, nearly one-third (31.5%) reported regular use of fish oil supplements. This group included a higher proportion of older individuals, women, and White people. They also had higher alcohol intake and consumed more oily fish compared to non-oily fish. Additionally, they had lower proportions of smokers and fewer individuals living in deprived areas.

Over the nearly 12-year follow-up period, 18,367 participants developed atrial fibrillation, while 22,636 experienced a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. A total of 22,140 participants died, including 14,902 who had no prior atrial fibrillation or serious cardiovascular disease. Among those who progressed from good cardiovascular health to atrial fibrillation, 3,085 developed heart failure, 1,180 had a stroke, and 1,415 had a heart attack. Of those with heart failure, 2,436 died, while 2,088 who had a stroke and 2,098 who had a heart attack also died.

For individuals without cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, there was a 13% increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation and a 5% increased risk of having a stroke. However, for those with cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, there was a 15% lower risk of progressing from atrial fibrillation to a heart attack and a 9% lower risk of progressing from heart failure to death.

Several factors influenced these associations, including age, sex, smoking status, consumption of non-oily fish, high blood pressure, and the use of statins and blood pressure medications. The study found that women and non-smokers had a 6% higher risk of transitioning from good health to experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure when using fish oil supplements. Conversely, men and older participants experienced greater protective effects from fish oil supplements, with a 7% and 11% lower risk of transitioning from good health to death, respectively.

As an observational study, the research cannot establish causation. It also lacked detailed information on the dosage and formulation of fish oil supplements and primarily included White participants, which limits the applicability of the findings to other ethnicities. Despite these limitations, the study suggests that regular use of fish oil supplements might play varying roles in the progression of cardiovascular disease, depending on an individual’s existing health status.

The study emphasizes the need for further research to determine the precise mechanisms by which fish oil supplements influence the development and prognosis of cardiovascular disease events. These findings highlight the complexity of fish oil’s effects on heart health and the importance of personalized approaches in dietary recommendations for cardiovascular disease prevention and management.

Do you take fish oil supplements? Why or why not? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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