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Do Fish Oil Pills Protect Your Heart? Big Study Says No


For the millions who hoped that popping one of those amber omega-3 fish oil pills every day might protect against heart disease, a major study has disappointing news.

The analysis of nearly 70,000 heart patients in 20 studies dating back to 1989 finds that omega-3 doesn't lower users' risks of heart attack, stroke or death from heart disease.

The study is the latest in a long-running controversy over whether omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, trout and tuna, have an impact on heart health.

A decade ago we were told that because people who ate diets heavy in fish had less heart disease, taking fish oil in a pill would obviously provide the same benefit.

Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. Earlier this year, Korean researchers found that omega-3 supplements had no effect on heart disease or death, based on 20,000 participants in previous trials.

The current research, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, was led by Moses Elisaf, M.D., of the University Hospital of Ioannina in Greece.

Elisaf and his team looked at 18 trials in which participants were randomly assigned to take either an omega-3 pill or a placebo every day for about two years. The researchers also looked at two trials in which heart patients were told to increase the amount of fish in their diet.

All participants were followed for problems related to heart disease, including heart attack, stroke and death.

Although the rates of heart disease were lower among those taking omega-3 pills compared with those not taking them, the researchers said the differences were too small to be statistically meaningful, reported.

The Greek researchers also said their findings about omega-3 applied whether the fish oil was from a pill or from eating fish, but that seems to be an overstatement. The results from the two studies about increasing fish in the diet were unclear, a fact they noted in the study.

Bottom line: "You can't think about individual nutrients in isolation," Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston, told Reuters.

Instead of supplements, Lichtenstein recommended eating fish at least twice a week, having a diet rich in whole grains and vegetables, getting lots of physical activity and not smoking.

In other health news:

McDonald's to post calorie counts on all menus. McDonald's wants you to know that a Big Mac and large fries will cost you 1,050 calories. Reuters reports that beginning next week, the world's number one hamburger chain will post calorie information in bright lights on its fast-food menus, ahead of a national rule that will require larger restaurant chains to provide such information.

New look at how seniors can prevent falls. A new analysis of earlier studies shows there are several steps seniors can take to prevent falls - a major health concern for the world's aging population. Exercise that includes both strength and balance training, whether carried out in groups or prescribed for people in their homes, can reduce the number of falls by 30 percent and the number of people falling by 20 percent, according to a Reuters story on

Campaign urges older people to become organ donors. USA Today reports that national and local advocates for organ donation would like more people to receive lifesaving organ transplants, so they are encouraging those age 50 or older to consider signing up to become donors.

Photo: Jonas N via flickr

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