Study: Fish oil supplements may raise heart disease, stroke risk

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Regular fish oil supplement use associated with increased risk of first-time heart disease and stroke, study reports.

LONDON, May 22: In a large-scale, long-term study published in BMJ Medicine, researchers have found that regular use of fish oil supplements may impact cardiovascular health depending on individual circumstances.

Fish oil, renowned for its omega-3 fatty acids, is often recommended as a preventive measure against cardiovascular disease. However, the efficacy of these supplements has been a subject of debate due to inconclusive evidence.

To address this gap, researchers conducted a study to assess the associations between fish oil supplements and cardiovascular events in individuals with no known cardiovascular disease. The study included 415,737 participants from the UK Biobank study, aged 40–69, surveyed between 2006 and 2010.

Participants were monitored until March 2021 or death, tracking incidences of atrial fibrillation, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and overall mortality. Results revealed that while regular fish oil supplement use was associated with a heightened risk of developing atrial fibrillation and stroke in individuals without pre-existing cardiovascular disease, it was linked to a lower risk of disease progression and death in those with existing cardiovascular conditions.

Specifically, among participants with cardiovascular disease, fish oil supplement use was associated with a reduced risk of transitioning from atrial fibrillation to heart attack and from heart failure to death. However, among those without cardiovascular disease, it was linked to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation and stroke.

Further analysis highlighted association variations based on factors such as age, sex, smoking status, and other health indicators. For instance, women and non-smokers showed a higher risk of transitioning to cardiovascular events with fish oil supplement use. At the same time, men and older participants exhibited a greater protective effect against mortality.

The researchers caution that the study’s observational nature precludes drawing definitive causal conclusions. Additionally, limitations such as lack of data on supplement dosage and formulation, as well as the predominantly white participant demographic, warrant further investigation.

Despite these limitations, the study underscores the need for continued research to elucidate the nuanced effects of fish oil supplements on cardiovascular health. As researchers advocate for further studies to unravel the precise mechanisms involved, the findings shed light on the complexities of supplement use in cardiovascular disease prevention and management.

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