Can fish oil prevent heart attacks and strokes?

By Accredited Practicing Dietitian Mellissa Hay 

Are you or someone you know taking fish oil or omega 3 supplements? If so, you want to read this.

Omega 3, also known as fish oil supplements, are thought to be the most widely taken nutritional supplement in the country, with claims they improve a number of health issues including cardiovascular problems (eg heart and circulation problems like stroke).

Despite supplements NOT being on the list of routine recommendations for preventing stroke or heart disease, many of us take them anyway. It’s believed that we may now be consuming more omega 3 from a capsule than from real food.

So are they actually helping or could these expensive investments be doing more harm than good? Let’s have a look at the latest research.

What does the latest research say? 

A new study released in July 2018 suggests that omega 3 or fish oil supplements may not be the superhero we once thought. A large review of high quality studies (randomised controlled trials) totalling 112,059 people, has revealed that long chain omega 3 supplements (fish/marine oil) are neither beneficial nor harmful when it comes to preventing heart disease but may slightly improve blood lipid levels (triglycerides and HDL cholesterol in particular).

There was some evidence that ALA (plant based omega 3) may be slightly protective against some heart and circulation conditions, however researchers were not able to draw strong conclusions about the role ALA when it came to stroke due to the low quality of completed studies.

No conclusion about the relationship between omega 3 in real fish and cardiovascular health could be made, as very few high quality studies used actual fish in their trials. Researchers encouraged the continued consumption of oily fish and seafood in line with current recommendations stating that fish and seafood are also a great source of many other health promoting nutrients in addition to omega 3 fats.

What does that mean for you?

If you are taking omega 3 supplements, in view of the new research, we recommend you seek individualised advice from your doctor to find out if omega 3 supplements are still a necessary component of your health plan. This may depend on your latest blood results as well as many other factors your doctor will consider, so make an appointment and have a chat about what’s best for you.

What else can you do to reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke?

If you want to reduce your risk, you need to know what factors are at play for you as an individual.

  • Are your blood glucose levels above target?
  • Is your blood pressure high?
  • Are you active or inactive?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Are you highly stressed?
  • Are you eating the right foods?
  • Are you carrying extra weight around your stomach?
  • What health conditions do you have?

The best plan of attack will be unique (just like you), so make an appointment to chat to your doctor, and in the meantime here’s a few simple foods tips below to get you started.

3 real foods you should be eating for good health

  1. Oily fish – enjoy 2-3 times each week to get your healthy dose of omega 3’s naturally.
  2. Nuts & seeds – one handful daily has a whole host of health benefits so get munching.
  3. Fresh foods – swap processed foods for fresh foods wherever possible to reduce the amount of sodium (salt), added sugars and trans fats you’re eating.
Want to know more?
  • Check out the NDSS Heart Disease and Diabetes Factsheet here.
  • Read the cochrane review here.
  • Learn more about National Stroke Week here.
  • Learn more about the benefits of nuts here.

Join our community of over 45,000 people living with diabetes

ArabicChinese (Simplified)EnglishGreekHindiItalianSpanishVietnamese