Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in such wild oily fish as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring. It is believed that omega-3 fatty acids could benefit heart as it could raise HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or good cholesterol, lowers harmful fats known as triglycerides and slow the growth of plaque that tend to clog arteries.
According to the recommendation by the American Heart Association, adults should take fish at least twice a week, and people with heart disease should consume 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acid a day.
However, a recent large study conducted in Germany seemed to get a rather surprising finding. Researchers from the University of Heidelberg reported that fish oil capsules did not offer added benefit to heart attack patients who are already taking the right medications to prevent future problems. Their results were presented on March 30, 2009 at an American College of Cardiology conference.
In the study, more than 3,800 people who had suffered a heart attack in the previous 2 weeks were given 1-gram daily dose of a prescription version of highly purified omega-3 fatty acid or dummy capsules. About 90 percent of these people were already receiving all the necessary medications prescribed by their doctors to prevent a second attack, including aspirin, anti-clotting and cholesterol drugs.
The prescription version used in the study is a highly purified and standardized form, and is different from what many consumers buy off the shelf. They are sold as Omacor and Lovaza in the United States and as Zodin in Europe,
After a year, the researchers found no difference in both groups of patients, whether they took fish oil or dummy capsules. The researchers also found that 2 percent had suffered sudden cardiac death, 4 percent had another heart attack and fewer than 2 percent had suffered a stroke in both groups of patients.
The researchers argued that there is nothing much can be done to further reduce the risk for heart attack patients, who have already received good care from their doctors (given all necessary medications). Nevertheless, this does not mean that fish oil is of no value. In the first place, the study did not address whether fish oil could help prevent heart disease.