Technology & Science

Fish oil may help combat chronic heart failure, study finds

Fish oil supplements may slightly help patients with chronic heart failure, according to new research released Sunday.

Benefits thought to come from omega-3 fatty acids

Fish oil supplements may slightly help patients with chronic heart failure, according to new research released Sunday.

Chronic heart failure is a condition that occurs when the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently around the body.

With few effective options for heart failure patients, the findings could yield a potential new treatment and could change the dietary recommendations for those patients, said Dr. Jose Gonzalez Juanatey, a spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology, who was not connected to the research.

"This reinforces the idea that treating patients with heart failure takes more than just drugs," Juanatey said.

The findings were published online in the British medical journal The Lancet on Sunday. They were simultaneously announced at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Munich, Germany.

"With a lot of these patients, you have no other choice," said Helmut Gohlke, a cardiologist at the Heart Centre in Bad Krozingen, Germany. "They've tried other treatments and are at the end of the road."

Salmon option

Italian researchers gave nearly 3,500 patients a daily omega-3 pill, a prescription-formulation pill derived from fish oils.

But doctors said people should get the same benefits from taking cheaper options like fish oil supplements, or just eating more oily fish like salmon.

Roughly the same number of patients were given placebo pills. Patients were followed for an average of four years.

In the group of patients taking the fish-oil pills, 1,981 died of heart failure or were admitted to the hospital with it. In the patients on placebo pills, 2,053 died or were admitted to the hospital for heart failure.

In a parallel study, the same team of Italian doctors gave 2,285 patients the drug rosuvastatin, also known as Crestor, and gave placebo pills to 2,289 people. Patients were then tracked for about four years. The doctors found little difference in heart failure rates between the two groups.

Comparing the results from both studies, the researchers concluded that fish oil is slightly more effective than both the drug and placebo.

"It's a small benefit, but we should always be emphasizing to patients what they can do in terms of diet that might help," said Richard Bonow, chief of cardiology at Northwestern University Hospital in Chicago and past president of the American Heart Association.

Both studies were paid for by an Italian group of pharmaceuticals including Pfizer Inc., Sigma Tau SpA and AstraZeneca PLC.

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish such as salmon and tuna have long been proven to offer health benefits like protecting the heart and brain, though scientists aren't exactly sure how.

Bonow said that since cell membranes are made of fatty acids, fish oils may help to replace and strengthen those membranes with omega-3.