Dietary supplements are a daily ritual for many looking to make sure they get all of their required nutrients. Some of the most commonly taken pills have been found to have some seriously positive effects on overall brain and heart health, especially as we age. But a new study has found that one popular supplement, in particular, might be putting your heart at risk. Read on to see why you might want to change up your regimen.
Taking omega-3 supplements could increase your risk of heart problems.
A team of researchers at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City analyzed 987 patients in their database who underwent their first angiographic study between 1994 and 2012. Blood samples from the patients allowed the scientists to monitor levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are often found in omega-3 supplements. According to a release from the study's authors, the team then tracked them over a period of 10 years to look for any major heart health events, including heart attack, stroke, or heart failure, that led to hospitalization or death.
Analysis showed that patients who had the highest levels of EPA saw a reduction in heart health risks. But the research also found that DHA might actively blunt the positive effects of EPA, with those patients showing higher DHA levels being at a higher risk for heart health issues.
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The combination of EPA and DHA can cancel out the positive heart effects of omega-3 supplements.
The researchers, who will present the study at the 2021 American College of Cardiology's Scientific Session, conclude that the convenience of omega-3 supplements in pill form might be creating a self-canceling effect when it comes to heart health.
"The advice to take omega-3s for the good of your heart is pervasive, but previous studies have shown that science doesn't really back this up for every single omega-3," Viet T. Le, researcher and cardiovascular physician assistant at the Intermountain Heart Institute and principal investigator of the study, said in a statement. "Our findings show that not all omega-3s are alike, and that EPA and DHA combined together, as they often are in supplements, may void the benefits that patients and their doctors hope to achieve."
The study's authors argue that omega-3s are better consumed in food form than as a pill.
The researchers also pointed out that omega-3s can still have important health benefits. But while the convenience of taking a daily supplement may be enticing, you're more likely to receive the actual health benefits from eating a diet of omega-3 rich foods, especially fatty fish such as mackerel or salmon.
"Based on these and other findings, we can still tell our patients to eat Omega-3 rich foods, but we should not be recommending them in pill form as supplements or even as combined (EPA + DHA) prescription products," he said. "Our data adds further strength to the findings of the recent REDUCE-IT (2018) study that EPA-only prescription products reduce heart disease events."
Other studies have found there are major heart health benefits to eating fish.
This isn't the first study to link a diet high in omega-3s with health benefits. A study published in BMJ in 2018 followed 2,622 adults with an average age of 74 from 1992 and 2015 to see if they developed any chronic diseases or other mental or physical ailments.
After investigators measured the level of certain omega-3 oils in participants' blood samples, results found that those in the top one-fifth percentile of high omega-3 levels were 18 percent less likely to show signs of unhealthy aging, The New York Times reports. "In our study, we found that adults with higher blood levels of omega-3s from seafood were more likely to live longer and healthier lives. So it is a great idea to eat more fish," Heidi T.M. Lai, PhD, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University, said.