SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS, France – Fish oil is the world’s most popular dietary supplement. Many believe that it is vital to improving heart health. However, a new study finds that they may actually have the opposite effect. Researchers have discovered a link between fish oil and higher risks for the most common heart rhythm disorder – atrial fibrillation.
Study authors say people with high cholesterol are particularly at risk. Even taking an over-the-counter omega-3 supplement can make heart health worse, not better.
The global market size for omega-3 dietary supplements is enormous, bringing in around 5.2 billion US dollars in 2019 alone. Around 19 million adults in the US regularly take fish oil pills for their health.
Some studies suggest that fishy fatty acids lead to atrial fibrillation, a shaky or irregular heartbeat, which leads to poor blood circulation. People with this disorder are five times more likely to have a stroke.
The researchers looked at more than 50,000 people who took fish oil supplements or a placebo to monitor their health years later. The results show that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a significantly increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias compared to taking a placebo.
“Currently, fish oil supplements are indicated for patients with elevated plasma triglycerides to reduce cardiovascular risk,” says Dr. Salvatore Carbone of Virginia Commonwealth University in a news release. “Because of the high prevalence of elevated triglycerides in the population, they can often be prescribed. It is noteworthy that low-dose omega-3 fatty acids are available over-the-counter without the need for a prescription. “
The benefits of fish oil supplements are still in doubt
Fish oil was originally used during the industrial revolution to fight rickets, or weakened bones. At that time, many teenagers in urban areas with little sunlight suffered from low vitamin D levels.
In the early 1970s, Danish scientists discovered a link between the Inuit in Greenland and low cardiovascular risk, suggesting that they eat a lot of fish. However, this was later suggested as an example of correlation rather than causality.
Other studies suggest that omega-3s have memory, skin health benefits, and anti-inflammatory properties. However, a recent report on taking fish oil pills shows that their benefits may have more to do with an individual user’s genes than that these supplements are a panacea.
“Our study suggests that fish oil supplements are associated with a significantly higher risk of atrial fibrillation in patients at increased cardiovascular risk,” concludes Dr. Carbones. “Although a clinical study indicated beneficial cardiovascular effects of supplementation, the risk of atrial fibrillation should be considered when prescribing or buying such agents over the counter, especially in those prone to developing an arrhythmia.”
The results appear in the European Heart Journal – Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy.
SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.