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Scientists from the University of Cambridge have found omega-3 fish oil supplements to be associated with a lower risk of dying from coronary heart disease (CHD) in a prospective cohort study published in British Medical Journal Open.

Whilst there already exists a huge amount of scientific research on the heart health benefits of omega-3s, this latest study focused more specifically on the protective effects of omega-3 supplement intake.

The study spanned 22 years and involved 22,035 men and women aged between 39-79 years. Questionnaires were used to evaluate omega-3 dietary intake and supplement use. Study participants were then grouped into non-supplement users (NSU), omega-3 PUFA supplement users (SU+n3) and non omega-3 PUFA supplement users (SU –n3).

Results of the study showed that omega-3 supplement intake was associated with a 26% lower risk of coronary heart disease when compared to those who didn’t take supplements.

Lead researcher, Dr Marleen Lentjes from the University of Cambridge commented on the results,

“We also observed a 26% lower hazard of CHD mortality among omega-3 supplement users compared with non-supplement users.”

And whilst the research team recognised that supplements do not deliver the full range of nutrients you get from eating a meal containing oily fish, they acknowledged that there are benefits of supplementation, including lower risk of exposure to harmful toxins and trans fats:

“However, omega-3 PUFA supplements contain lower concentrations of contamination and provide essential fatty acids without any coating and / or frying oils which might supply trans fatty acids which are positively associated with CHD.”

The researchers concluded,

“Results from this study corroborate a wealth of data, RCT and observational alike, demonstrating a reduced risk of CHD mortality with EPA/DHA supplementation and thus supporting the adoption of an NRV (nutrient reference value) for EPA + DHA”.

Now is the best time to start a daily omega-3 habit, for good…

Most people eating a typical Western diet don’t get enough omega-3s to support overall health, and supplementation is often recommended to ensure optimal daily intake. Choosing the right omega-3 supplement is absolutely crucial for maximum health effects. It is important to select an omega-3 fish oil that has been thoroughly purified to be free from harmful contaminants such as heavy metals and PCBs, and one that can demonstrate a high level of stability, i.e. doesn’t go rancid. In fact, products that are neither pure nor stable will likely do you more harm than good. With more and more research now attesting to the benefits of upping your intake of omega-3s, not least for a healthy heart, now is the best time to start a daily omega-3 habit, for good. 

Hentjes M, Keogh RH et al. Longitudinal associations between marine omega 3 supplement users and coronary heart disease in a UK population-based cohort.  BMJ Open Published online ahead of print: doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017471

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