PEORIA – Two new studies have raised some questions about the use of fish oil supplements to treat heart problems.
The studies were published during the annual conference of the American Heart Association 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 the heart attack. The second study showed that fish oil supplements, which are commonly found in pharmacies and health stores, do nothing to reduce the risk of heart problems.
Dr. Sudhir Mungee, an intervention cardiologist with the OSF HealthCare cardiovascular institute, gave some clarity during a phone conversation on Monday.
"We know fish oil has a beneficial effect on heart health, mainly because it reduces inflammation, a first step in cardiovascular disease," he said. "Fish contain a fatty acid called EPA that reduces inflammation, but is fish oil supplements enough to reduce the risk?"
The dose of EPA provided to patients in a clinical trial with a new drug called Vascepa was many times the dose found in supplemental doses of fish oil in pharmacies. Vascepa will probably be used to treat heart disease in the future. Drug add-ons will not do the same. Better choice, Mungee said, is a healthy lifestyle.
"I'd rather spend the money on a good diet than spending money on a medicine that would give you medicine," he said.
In addition to being expensive, supplements like fish oil pills are not regulated by the FDA, which means that patients do not necessarily know what they get. Adding supplements can be harmful if they interact with other medicines that the patient is taking.
"If you have not considered what supplements you are taking with your doctor, you can get hurt," Mungee said.
Healthy nutrition combined with exercise and other healthy lifestyles such as getting sleep, reducing stress and smoking or drinking too much is the way to go, Mungee said. While the holiday season can make more complex lifestyle choices, the key is a slowdown.
"Nobody says they do not eat something you want, but watch your portions and balance them with physical exercise," he said. "The recommendation is 30 minutes of gentle exercise five days a week, which can go on foot."
Healthy lifestyle is a family effort – a person who plans family eating sets a standard for everyone, Mungee said.
"The health center is a woman," he said. "If you educate the most important person in the family about good health practices – what to eat and how to prepare it and the size of the portion – you will double or quadruple the benefit, depending on how many people are in the family."
Good health practices are the everyday thing that must go on holiday, says Mungee.
"The idea is not to enjoy this festive season, but you'll enjoy more breezes for the rest of your life."
Leslie Renken is available at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken and sign in at Facebook.com/leslie.renken.