By Natasha Persaud

Taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements may not help a person with heart disease stave off a heart attack or stroke, according to an analysis from the Annals of Internal Medicine. The same applies to heart failure, sudden cardiac death, and TIA or mini-stroke. The recent findings contradict two previous studies showing benefits of fish oil supplements. Heart disease patients are left to wonder, should I be taking an omega-3 supplement?

Omega-3 Supplement article - MasterfileFor their analysis, Korean researchers included fourteen studies involving more than 20,000 patients with cardiovascular disease. The supplements contained eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and/or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two omega-3 fatty acids found naturally in fish that are purported to help prevent inflammation, buildup of plaque in arteries, and heart rhythm disturbances. The daily dose ranged from less than a gram to almost 5 grams. Participants took the supplements for at least one year.

To reveal the effects of omega-3 supplements, the Korean researchers focused on studies with control groups who took placebos, such as vegetable oil. Which treatment participants received had to be hidden from both the participants and the people conducting the studies.

Fishing for the Truth

The Korean researchers chose to exclude two large studies that showed omega-3 supplements could help stave off heart attack and stroke—the GISSI Prevention Trial from Italy and the Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study—because neither used a placebo or were blinded. That was a misstep, according to an accompanying editorial. Although other recent trials show no benefits of omega-3 supplements to heart disease patients, they may have been too small to detect a benefit, according to the editorialists.

Are You Getting Your Fill of Fish?

While more conclusive studies are needed, it’s a good idea to include fish in your diet, suggest experts. Fish not only provides omega-3 fatty acids, but it can replace less healthy sources of protein, such as red meat high in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends that people with heart disease consume one gram of EPA and DHA daily, preferably from fatty fish, such as:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Lake Trout
  • Sardines
  • Albacore tuna

EPA and DHA supplements also could be considered, but talk to your doctor first. Stay tuned for results from future research.


Fish 101. American Heart Association. Available at Accessed on April 16, 2012.

Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease (AHA Scientific Statement). American Heart Association. Available at Accessed on April 16, 2012.

Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. American Heart Association. Available at Accessed on April 16, 2012.

Hu and Manson. Editorial: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease—Is It Just a Fish Tale? Annals of Internal Medicine. Published online April 9, 2012.

Kwak, S. et al. Efficacy of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements (Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid) in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Annals of Internal Medicine. Published online April 9, 2012.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff of

Published: 16 Apr 2012

Last Modified: 26 Jun 2012