Something Fishy about Omega-3s and Heart Health, Researchers Say

Lots of people with—and without—type 1 diabetes (T1D) are increasing their consumption of certain kinds of fish, such as salmon and mackerel, as well as taking fish oil supplements, to gain the reputed health benefits associated with the omega-3 fatty polyunsaturated fatty acids (“omega-3s”) contained in these foods and supplements. Well, here’s some news to swallow: researchers from the University of Ioannina in Greece reviewed the results of 20 clinical trials that tracked the health outcomes of nearly 70,000 participants taking omega-3s. They found that the supplements do not appear to significantly lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, or heart disease, according to a study recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Omega-3s are widely considered to be essential to healthy heart and brain development, and possibly offer anti-inflammatory and circulatory benefits. Experts say that it is not clear how omega-3s may help the heart and circulation, but these types of fats have long been thought to have an effect on cardiovascular health due to their ability to lower blood pressure and decrease triglycerides—a particular kind of fat found in the bloodstream that can be dangerous at high levels. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved their use as triglyceride-lowering agents, and the American Heart Association recommends fish oil supplements for people with coronary artery disease. Even some European regulators recommend their use for patients who have suffered a heart attack or have other cardiovascular problems.

But varying usage guidelines often cause confusion about whether to use omega-3 supplements as a means of cardiovascular protection. To determine if a connection exists, the researchers cited above reviewed clinical trials dating back to 1989 that tracked patients who took fish oil supplements for at least one year. Early research studies of fish oil supplements showed a “strong, significant effect” on cardiovascular health, the authors say, but as more studies were conducted, “the effect became weaker.”

Despite the clouded waters around fish oils and cardiac health, the authors suggest that more research is needed to determine whether omega-3s might be useful for specific patient populations or illnesses. In other words, to keep your best interest at heart, pay attention for future studies on omega-3s.


The information in this article is offered for general educational purposes and is not intended to replace professional medical advice. You should not make any changes to the management of type 1 diabetes without first consulting your physician or other qualified medical professional.