Study: Certain Omega-3 Acids May Decrease Cardiovascular Benefits of Others

Skylar Kenney, Assistant Editor

Supplements for Omega-3s often contain both EPA and DHA.

Higher levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in the blood lower the risk of major cardiac events and death in patients, although docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) decreased the cardiovascular benefits of EPA, according to a study presented at the 2021 American College of Cardiology's Scientific Session. Supplements for Omega-3s often contain both EPA and DHA. According to the researchers, higher DHA levels at any level of EPA worsened health outcomes.

The study examined 987 patients over a period of 10 years using the INSPIRE registry, an Intermountain Healthcare database started in 1993 that has more than 35,000 blood samples from nearly 25,000 patients. The patients analyzed underwent their first documented coronary angiographic study at Intermountain Healthcare between 1994 and 2012. The circulating levels of EPA and DHA in their blood was measured from these samples. Over the 10 years of the study, the researchers tracked the participants, looking for major cardiac adverse events, which included heart attack, stroke, or heart failure requiring hospitalization or death.

The study also found that patients with higher levels of DHA than EPA were more at risk for heart problems.

“The advice to take Omega-3s for the good of your heart is pervasive, but previous studies have shown that science doesn't really back this up for every single omega-3,” said Viet T. Le, MPAS, PA, investigator and cardiovascular physician assistant at the Intermountain Heart Institute, in a press release. “Our findings show that not all Omega-3s are alike, and that EPA and DHA combined together, as they often are in supplements, may void the benefits that patients and their doctors hope to achieve.”

According to the researchers, these results raise concerns about the combined usage of EPA and DHA, specifically through supplements.

“Based on these and other findings, we can still tell our patients to eat Omega-3 rich foods, but we should not be recommending them in pill form as supplements or even as combined (EPA + DHA) prescription products,” Le said in the release. “Our data adds further strength to the findings of the recent REDUCE-IT (2018) study that EPA-only prescription products reduce heart disease events.”

REFERENCE

New study finds combination of Omega-3s in popular supplements may blunt heart benefits [news release]. EurekAlert; May 17, 2021. Accessed May 17, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-05/imc-nsf051421.php