PEORIA — Two new studies are raising some questions about the use of fish oil supplements to treat heart problems.
The studies were released during the American Heart Association’s annual conference in November. One showed that a new drug containing a concentrated dose of EPA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, significantly reduced heart attacks. The second study showed that the fish oil supplements commonly found at pharmacies and health food stores did nothing to reduce the risk of heart problems.
Dr. Sudhir Mungee, an interventional cardiologist with OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute, brought some clarity to the issue during a phone interview Monday.
“We know that fish oil has a beneficial effect on heart health, mainly because it reduces inflammation, which is the first step to cardiovascular disease,” he said. “Fish contains a fatty acid called EPA, which reduces inflammation, but are the fish oil supplements enough to reduce the risk?”
The dose of EPA given to patients in the trial of a new drug called Vascepa was many times the dose found in drugstore fish oil supplements. Vascepa will likely be used in the treatment for heart disease in the future. Drugstore supplements won't do the same thing. A better choice, Mungee said, is ahealthy lifestyle.
“I would rather spend my money on a good diet than spend money on an over-the-counter pill,” he said.
In addition to being costly, supplements like fish oil pills are not regulated by the FDA, which means patients don’t necessarily know what they are getting. Taking supplements can be harmful if they interact with other medicines the patient is taking.
“If you have not discussed what supplements you are taking with your medical provider, you can be putting yourself in harm’s way,” said Mungee.
A healthy diet combined with exercise and other healthy lifestyle choices, like getting plenty of sleep, reducing stress, and not smoking or drinking excessively, are the way to go, said Mungee. While the holiday season can make good lifestyle choices more difficult, the key is moderation.
“Nobody is saying don’t eat something you like, but watch your portions, and balance it with physical exercise,” he said. “The recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. That can be walking.”
A healthy lifestyle is a family endeavor — the person who plans the family meals sets the standard for everyone, Mungee said.
“The center of health is a woman,” he said. “More women than men bring home the food and prepare it. If you educate the most important person in the family about good health practices — what to eat and how to prepare it and portion sizes — you double or quadruple the benefit, depending on how many people there are in the family.”
Good health practices are an everyday thing that need to continue into the holiday season, said Mungee.
“The idea is not to enjoy just this festive season, but to enjoy many more Christmases for the rest of your life.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.