Video: Omega-3 supplements no good for heart and stroke

Video transcript

Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid found predominantly in plants and seafood. We’ve got lots of it in our brain - where it seems to help with brain development, mood regulation, and behaviour. But while you can get it from oily fish, there’s also a huge market for omega-3 supplements - it’s spruiked as beneficial for heart health, including heart attack and stroke. Sales sit at more than $200 million per year - but is there any proven benefit to this supplement when it comes to the health of your heart?

A huge new study set to find out. This research was a Cochrane review, which is an extensive review of the available scientific evidence undertaken by a team from Cochrane Library, a non-profit and non-government organisation. Cochrane reviews are among the most compelling and convincing pieces of evidence on things that work or don’t work in the medical literature. The omega-3 review brought together almost 80 randomly controlled trials, which were looking at the consumption of omega-3 supplements and whether people got a benefit from them or not. That included plant and fish-based omega-3s.

After analysing outcomes across those 79 studies, the researchers weren’t able to find an effect of omega-3 supplements on heart attack or stroke at all. The supplements weren’t harmful, but they didn’t seem to do any good either. When it came to whole fish (as opposed to just the omega-3 you get in the supplements) they weren’t able to say if it was beneficial or not and want to collect stronger evidence on that point.

Implications

There’s one clear implication from this research - if you’re taking omega-3 supplements in the hope it’ll help your heart, there seems to be little point. The good news is that we do know what does make a healthy heart - a good diet, avoiding saturated fat, exercise, no smoking, keeping your blood pressure down and not drinking to excess. And what’s good for the heart is good for the brain, too.

References

Abdelhamid, et al. (2018). Omega-3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Library doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003177.pub3.