Forget Omega 3 Supplements, Here’s What You Should Be Eating For Heart Health

A major study found supplements do very little to protect against heart disease, stroke or early death.

People who take omega-3 supplements for heart health might be better off spending their money on vegetables instead, according to a major new study.

The latest findings, which involved analysing 79 randomised trials involving more than 110,000 people, found the pills do very little to protect against heart disease, stroke or early death.

Cardiologist Professor Tim Chico, from the University of Sheffield, said seeing as supplements can be expensive he would advise people to “spend their money on vegetables instead” to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Stock image.
Eziutka via Getty Images
Stock image.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) agreed. She told HuffPost UK rather than taking supplements, people should eat a healthy, balanced Mediterranean style diet: “This includes white and oily fish along with plenty of fruit, vegetables and pulses, lentils, nuts, seeds, unsaturated oils and wholegrains. We need to focus on our whole diet rather than the use of supplements of individual nutrients to ward off heart disease.”

Omega 3 is a type of fat which can be found in the food we eat such as walnuts, salmon, sardines, chia seeds, flaxseeds and mackerel. Small amounts of these fats are essential for good health.

The main types of omega 3 fatty acids are: alpha­linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is normally found in fats from plant foods, such as nuts and seeds, while EPA and DHA, collectively called long chain omega 3 fats, are naturally found in fatty fish, such as salmon and fish oils.

Most studies investigated the impact of giving a long-chain omega 3 supplement in a capsule form and compared it to a placebo pill, and only a few assessed whole fish intake.

The studies recruited men and women - some healthy and others with existing illnesses - from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Participants were either told to increase their omega 3 fats or maintain their usual intake of fat for at least a year.

Researchers found that taking long-chain omega 3 in supplement form provided little (if any) benefit on heart health including the risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and had little or no meaningful effect on the risk of death.

It did find that ALA (found in nuts and seeds) might reduce the risk of heart irregularities marginally, although about 1,000 people would need to increase consumption for one of them to benefit.

Lead author, Dr Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia, said: “We can be confident in the findings of this review which go against the popular belief that long-chain omega 3 supplements protect the heart. This large systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods. Despite all this information, we don’t see protective effects.”

Things that can boost heart health:

:: Reduce alcohol intake or quit altogether.
:: Stop smoking.
:: Take regular exercise.
:: Cut down the amount of salt and saturated fats in your diet.