Fish oil is one of the country’s most popular supplements and is often highly regarded for its perceived heart health benefits.
But mounting evidence is washing away this widely held belief – a finding sure to break the hearts of supplement aficionados nationwide.
The latest study, by Cochrane review, found that omega-3 supplements had no effect on the risk of heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular disease.
The Cochrane research comes within months of another major review that found omega-3 supplements are not beneficial for the prevention of heart attack in high-risk populations.
In the latest review, researchers combined the results of 79 trials involving more than 100,000 people, including men and women from Australia. This made it the most comprehensive review of omega-3 fats and heart health to date.
Trial participants were randomly assigned to a group to either increase omega-3 fats in their diet, or to maintain their intake, for at least a year. Some people took supplements, while others were unwittingly given dummy pills.
Lead author Dr Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia, UK said the findings contradict the popular belief surrounding omega-3s but she is confident with the study outcomes.
“The most trustworthy studies consistently showed little or no effect of long-chain omega 3 fats on cardiovascular health,” she said.
The review did not assess the role of fish in the diet, so experts maintain that the best source of omega-3 is from oily fish.
The Heart Foundation, National Health and Medical Research Council and the Dietitians Association of Australia still recommend eating two to three serves of fish per week for heart health.
Heart Foundation chief medical adviser, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings, said the recent findings confirm what he has long suspected about the role of omega-3s.
“This [review] aligns with the Heart Foundation’s current position, which does not advise that health professionals routinely recommend omega-3 supplements for heart health,” he said.
Professor Jennings told The New Daily there are some legitimate applications for omega-3 supplements in clinical settings, such as an additional treatment for heart failure.
But his advice for the general public is to source omega-3s from fresh food instead.
A recent study of more than 420,000 people found eating high amounts of fish could reduce the risk of death from chronic liver disease, respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease.
But according to the study’s authors there was a catch: fried fish had the reverse effect on women and increased the likelihood of death from all causes. A cautionary tale, or tail if you will, that it’s not just what you eat but how you eat it too.
“The recommendation of fish consumption, especially non-fried fish consumption, may continue to be a key message,” the authors concluded.
Only one in four of the study participants ate the recommended amount of fish each week.
The World Health Organisation recommends eating a couple of servings of fish each week, which provides 200mg to 500mg of omega-3s from marine sources.
The best sources of omega-3 fats are salmon, blue-eye trevalla, blue mackerel, herring, canned sardines and some types of canned tuna.
Other foods containing small amounts of omega-3 include walnuts, linseeds, eggs, chicken and beef.
The recent studies did not look at the effect of omega-3 supplements on other health conditions, such as brain function and joint pain.
Previous research has shown that fish oil may reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and other joint conditions.