Study: Taking Fish Oil Pills Doesn’t Help Prevent Heart Attacks If You’re Already On Meds

Those in the know have long recommended eating fish like salmon and tuna to get the benefits of its omega-3 fatty acids, or swallowing fish oil capsules to get the same good stuff. But a new study says that if you’re at high risk for heart problems and already taking medications to prevent them, fish oil won’t really do anything for you.

Earlier studies have said that fish oil could lower heart risks for people with heart failure or who are prone to heart attacks, and the American Heart Association says only people who have high levels of triglycerides in their blood should take them. But according to a large study in Italy, via the Associated Press, anyone already on heart medications might as well save some money and skip the oil.

The study by the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan used two groups of participants, one taking a dummy capsule and the other taking fish oil. Those people were at high risk for heart attacks due to varying factors, but hadn’t had one yet. As such, most were already on things like aspirin and other meds to prevent the likelihood of having one.

After five years, researchers found that the rate of people suffering from heart attacks and strokes was at about 12% for both groups. In other words, those taking the fish oil plus regular medications weren’t any better off than those who had gone without the oil. 

“They’re very high-risk people and so the level of other treatments was very high,” says Dr. Donna Arnett of the AHA. “When you’re being aggressively treated for all of your other risk factors, adding fish oil yielded no additional benefits.”

Another heart expert, this one from the cardiovascular nutrition lab at Tufts University in Boston, points out that although fish oil is often cited as helping to lower heart risks, that could be partly because the people already eating fish usually are healthier in their eating habits and probably exercise more. So if you’re not watching what you eat and keeping your butt glued to the couch, fish oil won’t do much for you.

“It is sort of like breaking a fish oil capsule over a hot fudge sundae and expecting the effect of the calories and saturated fat to go away,” she notes.

Good to know, because fish oil on a sundae sounds pretty gross.

Study: Fish Oil Doesn’t Help Prevent Heart Attacks [Associated Press]