While previous studies have shown fish oil supplements don’t benefit patients when it comes to reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, new research released at the annual conference of the American Heart Association and published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found a derivative from fish could minimise the risk of the deadly health conditions.
According to the Heart Foundation, icosapent ethyl, also known as the brand name Vascepa, has been proven to reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks, as well as death from heart attack in those already at high risk of an attack who use statins.
The benefit is only observed in patients who have previously experienced a heart attack or stroke, although researchers can’t confirm why these benefits are observed. It is thought it could relate to the high dose or purity of icosapent ethyl. Icosapent ethyl is one of several components in standard fish oil supplements, but it was given to patients in higher dosages when compared to previous studies.
It is an omega3 acid derived from fish that differs from regular fish oil because it is a refined component of fish oil. Icosapent ethyl isn’t currently registered in Australia and is not on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. It is, however, registered in the United States as a way of treating high triglyceride levels.
Although promising, the results of the new study to not provide any new information for patients who don’t take statins as well as those who haven’t experienced a heart attack or stroke.
At present, the Heart Foundation does not advise routine recommendation of omega-3 supplements for heart health, but does recommend health professionals consider the use of omega-3 supplements for people with high triglyceride levels, as well as an additional treatment for heart failure.
Between two and three serves of fish per week as part of a heart-healthy diet is also advised. There are no plans to change the current recommendations based on the study’s findings.
“There is no need to change Heart Foundation recommendations at this stage, as this is only a single study showing benefit,” Heart Foundation clinical manager Cia Connell said in a statement. “Guidelines are based on wide-ranging reviews of multiple sources of evidence.”
The Heart Foundation’s guidelines for treating heart attack patients are set to be reviewed in 2019-2020. The organisation says Australia’s national guidelines on the treatment of cholesterol and high triglycerides for patients who haven’t had a heart or stroke are out of date. An update is currently being discussed by the relevant health organisations.
At present, statin therapy is recommended for patients who have had a heart attack, while a review of cholesterol levels after three months and an adjustment of statin therapy after this period is also recommended.
“Patients should continue to take their statins and talk to their doctor about a heart healthy diet,” Connell explained.