Is Fish Oil the Answer for Heart Health?

Fish oil supplements are booming. In 2011 Americans spent $1.1 billion on them, up 5.4% from 2010, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.  But large review studies have found no statistically significant association between all deaths, cardiac-related deaths, sudden deaths, heart attacks and strokes among people taking the supplements.  So when did people start taking omega-3?

A large 1989 study found that men who had already had a heart attack and changed their diets to include more fatty fish rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid were 29% less likely to die in the next two years. The message Americans may not want to hear is that eating healthy foods, not taking pills, is what helps heart health.   It is encouraged for cardiac patients to eat fatty fish in at least two meals a week.  Doctors seem to agree that there is no danger to taking fish oil supplements. But they may or may not be providing the benefit people had originally hoped for.

What is omega-3?

Omega-3’s are essential fatty acids necessary for human health but the body cannot make them, meaning you have to get them through food. They can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils.  They play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development and may reduce the risk of heart disease.

There are certain precautions you should take when taking omega-3 supplement however. Note possible interactions with other medications.  For example, Omega-3 fatty acids may increase the effects of blood thinning medications, including aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and Clopedigrel (Plavix).  They should only be taken together under the supervision of a health care provider.  Taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements may increase fasting blood sugar levels. Use with caution if taking medications to lower blood sugar, such as glipizide (Glucotrol and Glucotrol XL), glyburide (Micronase or Diabeta), glucophage (Metformin), or insulin. Your doctor may need to increase your medication dose.

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, which means the body cannot make them -- you have to get them through food. Omega-3 is found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, halibut, and nut oils.  Understand that taking omega-3 supplement alone without health eating habits will not improve heart health.  Consuming a good combination of dietary omega-3 and supplement will be better than relying on supplement.  Though no danger in taking omega-3 supplement, note some drug interactions with blood thinners and diabetic medications.