This Healthy Fat Actually Makes Heart Disease Worse!

By on March 20, 2014
National guidelines say it’s true: To reduce your risk of heart disease, eat more omega-3 fatty acids.

But now new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may actually be ineffective for fighting heart disease.

For one nutritionist, this new evidence is worrying.

“Maybe now with coronary patients, because of rigorous interventions that they’re being given, you don’t really see benefits,” says Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. “It’s these kinds of things that we have to look at very, very carefully when we meet [at the next Nutrition Committee meeting]. Dietary recommendations are not made on the basis of a single study.”

The new findings, which were first released on Monday, are based on a analysis of 72 previous studies, which showed there was “insufficient evidence” that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for preventing heart disease. While some studies in the past have shown a positive correlation between the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and improved health markers, those don’t necessarily translate to a healthier heart in the long term–serious issues that could now be affecting the health of many Americans.

“Looking at the 17 randomized clinical trials that we combined, the majority of the trials–especially the more recent and large-scale ones–showed consistently little or no significant effect on reducing coronary heart disease events,” says Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, lead author of the analysis. “Saturated fats are not essentially the main problem when it comes to risk of heart disease. Also, omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids have no or little impact on reducing cardiovascular disease outcomes.”

In the study, researchers looked at studies involving more than 600,000 people from 18 countries, and then looked at if certain factors, such as consuming more omega-3 fatty acids, affected their cardiovascular risk. As it turns out, the evidence wasn’t just there, nor were there strong indications that eating too much saturated fat worsened their heart disease risk.

Now researchers say this is a good sign that current heart disease guidelines need to be scrutinized–though obviously there is opposition.

“We need to think of omega-3s as dietary components and not as drugs,” says William Harris, a professor of medicine at the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota. “I’m still convinced they’re good things.”

In the meanwhile, nutritionists urge the general public to continue to follow these guidelines, despite the new evidence presented.

Chowdhury, despite providing these findings, also somewhat agrees–saying that people should focus more on eating omega-3 fatty acids from food, and not supplements.

“Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for health,” says Chowdhury. “We need omega-3 fatty acids for numerous normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain.”

Recommendation? If you’re worried about your omega-3 fatty intake, make sure you’re getting it from food, not supplements. Doing so will be safer for your heart.

Readers: What other ways do you protect your heart?

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