Fish Oil: A Good Catch or a Scam?
By Talya Spivack, MD, Virtua Cardiology
Millions of Americans take fish oil supplements to help prevent heart disease. But do they really work?
Omega-3 fatty acids are often referred to as “healthy fats” because they do not promote hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Found naturally in cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel, they can be beneficial to heart health, lowering triglyceride levels, reducing inflammation, decreasing blood clotting, and stabilizing heart rhythms.
The Institute of Medicine recommends men get 1.6 grams and women 1.1 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day, with food as the best source. The American Heart Association suggests eating cooked fatty fish at least twice a week.
However, studies have found little evidence that the omega-3 supplements that line the aisles in supermarkets and drug stores can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. And to come anywhere close to meeting the suggested daily intake of omega-3, you’d have to take upwards of 15 capsules—which I do not recommend.
A new prescription version of omega-3 has shown greater promise, especially in people with high triglycerides.
In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the use of Vascepa (icosapent ethyl), a more pure form of fish oil, for people with triglyceride levels greater than 150 mg/dL. Vascepa is taken alongside a statin to treat high cholesterol.
One study found people taking Vascepa had a 31 percent lowered risk for heart attack, a 28 percent reduced risk for stroke, and a 20 percent drop in cardiovascular-related deaths, on top of the benefits provided by their statins.
A 4-gram dose of Vascepa taken daily, along with a statin, exercise, and healthy diet, may help lower your risk of a major cardiovascular event.
Talk to your doctor to see if it should be added to your treatment plan.
Comprehensive cardiac care is just a heartbeat away. Virtua has more than 100 highly trained heart specialists ready to provide the most advanced care, when and where you need it. To make an appointment with one of our cardiologists, call 844-932-8444.
Updated September 8, 2020