14 August 2009
There is now such comprehensive evidence for the health benefits of fish oils containing omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) that Australian experts are calling for their inclusion on the PBS. A major international review has found that a daily dose of fish oil can help prevent heart disease in healthy people, as well as prevent further heart problems in people who already have heart disease (J Am Coll Cardiol 2009; 54: 585-94).
Most of the evidence for the heart-protective benefits supports the use of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – the long-chain fatty acids in the omega-3 family.
The US reviewers examined 30 years of research covering tens of thousands of patients and said the evidence was so conclusive that they could recommend minimum daily targets of 500 mg of omega-3s for those without cardiovascular disease, and 800 to 1000 mg for people with coronary heart disease (CHD).
The greatest effect was seen in people with a history of heart disease and after a myocardial infarction (heart attack), where there was up to a 30 per cent reduction in the risk of heart-related death.
Based on results from a large study involving people with heart failure (the GISSI-HF trial), the researchers concluded that 800-1000 mg of daily omega-3s should also be extended to people with heart failure. The results showed one concentrated fish oil capsule per day significantly reduced mortality or hospitalisations for cardiovascular disease, compared with the statin cholesterol-lowering medicines or placebo (dummy medicine) in people with heart failure.
Long-time fish oil advocate Associate Professor David Colquhuon, a cardiologist from the University of Queensland, said fish oil should be considered first-line therapy in people with heart failure, in addition to standard treatments.
He said the review included additional data from another study – the JELIS trial – which found that in asymptomatic people with high cholesterol who were taking statins, adding fish oil decreased coronary events by 20 per cent.
Professor Colquhuon said fish oil supplements were cost-effective, with 400 standard fish oil capsules costing $30, and people should take 2 to 3 standard capsules containing 300 mg of omega-3 fish oils per day.
Last Reviewed: 14 August 2009