Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart gradually loses its ability to efficiently pump blood to the body.
Often, it stems from heart-muscle damage caused by a heart attack—which raised the question of whether the benefits seen in the trial might extend to heart failure.
In a recent study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, researchers found fish oil might help people with heart failure avoid repeat trips to the hospital.
The study is published in Circulation.
In the study, the team tested the effects of fish oil and vitamin D on people’s risk of heart disease and cancer.
Previous studies have shown that healthy older adults given a fish oil supplement were less likely to suffer a heart attack over the next several years, especially if they had never been big fish eaters.
The current analysis looked at whether supplements had any effect on participants’ risk of being hospitalized for heart failure.
The team tested nearly 26,000 adults aged 50 and older who were initially free of heart problems.
These people were randomly assigned to take either 1 gram of prescription-grade fish oil (Omacor), 2,000 IU of vitamin D, or a placebo every day.
The team found over five years, the fish oil group was 28% less likely to suffer a heart attack compared to the placebo group.
The effect was more pronounced among people whose diets had been low in fish: They were 40% less likely to have a heart attack than placebo users.
When the team looked at heart failure hospitalizations, there was no clear effect of either fish oil or vitamin D on first-time admissions.
But fish oil users were 14% less likely to have repeat hospitalizations: There were 326 recurrent hospital stays in that group and 379 in the placebo group.
The finding shows that the supplements might help prevent heart failure hospitalizations.
The team says that fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help lower triglycerides, lessen inflammation and blood clotting, and help stabilize heart rhythm.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people eat fish twice a week—preferably fatty varieties higher in omega-3, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and albacore tuna.
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