Fish Oil Doesn’t Help Heart Attack Patients in Biggest Study

By Tom Randall

March 30 (Bloomberg) -- Omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in the organs of oily fish including salmon and sardines, didn’t help heart attack patients prevent another cardiac event, a study found.

The report, presented today at the American College of Cardiology in Orlando, Florida, contradicts previous smaller studies that suggested a daily supplement may help ward off repeat heart attacks, strokes and death. After taking a gram of purified fatty-acid supplements each day for a year, patients in the latest research, the biggest of its kind, fared no better than those who were given olive oil.

The 3,827 patients studied also got the best recommended therapy for heart-attacks, the researchers said. Most of the earlier studies were performed when heart-attack treatments were less advanced, they said. New treatments for heart attacks are so effective, they may have overwhelmed benefits from the fatty acids, the scientists said.

“We saw no beneficial effect,” said Jochen Senges, professor of cardiology at Heart Center Ludwigshafen at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in a statement. “In patients who are already taking optimal medical therapy, cardiac event rates become very low and omega-3 do not further improve them.”

In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the supplements a “qualified health claim status” for preventing heart disease, allowing companies to advertise the benefits of the supplements based on evidence. An August study of fish oil to treat heart failure, a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to supply oxygen to other organs, found the pills reduced deaths by 9 percent.

Community Health Centers

The latest research was conducted in 104 community health centers in Germany. Researchers found that over the course of the average yearlong follow-up, 3.9 percent of patients had another nonfatal heart attack, 1.7 percent had a nonfatal stroke, and 4.1 percent died. There were no significant differences between the group that took omega-3 fatty acids and the one that took the dummy pills.

Recommended care for heart attack patients varies by patient and includes a combination of tests, procedures and medicines.

About 94 percent of patients in the study had an X-ray exam of the heart called an angiography and 78 percent had angioplasty procedures. About 94 percent were prescribed drugs known as beta-blockers, 94 percent received cholesterol drugs called statins, 95 percent received aspirin and 88 percent received Plavix, a blood thinner made by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Sanofi-Aventis SA.