Fish oil helps to slow, prevent damage after a heart attack

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil could help repair damage post-heart attack, new research suggests. Peter Engelsted Jonasen/Getty Images

We’ve been told to eat at least two servings of fish each week to load up on omega-3 fatty acids for our heart and brain health. But a new study suggests that heart attack patients reap the benefits, too — fish oil reduces damage post-heart attack.

Giving heart attack survivors omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil supplements every day for six months can help with improving heart function, new research out of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found.

It could be because the omega-3s help the heart contract better and cuts back on tissue buildup in undamaged parts of the vital organ.

“Our findings show that omega-3 fatty acids are a safe and effective treatment in improving cardiac remodelling, so it may be promising in reducing the incidence of heart failure or death, which are still major healthcare burdens to patients who suffer a heart attack,” lead researcher, Dr. Raymond Kwong, explained.

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Kwong’s conclusions stem from a study that had 360 patients taking either four grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day or a placebo for six months following their heart attack.

The fish oil supplements were FDA-approved and a “purified” form of fish oil. Because these heart attack patients were taking other medications too, they were under doctors’ observation for the duration of the study.

The scientists on Kwong’s team relied on MRI scans to look at the study participants’ hearts before and after their study.

Those who were taking the fish oil supplements ended up with a 5.8 per cent reduction in muscle scarring in the heart along with a six per cent improvement in their heart function compared to their counterparts taking a placebo.

They saw less inflammation, too.

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Kwong calls fish oil supplement treatment “safe and effective,” but adds heart attack survivors shouldn’t start this therapy on their own.

For decades, health officials have been encouraging consumers to eat two servings of fish per week. A serving is about 3.5 ounces or the size of a chequebook.

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Fish is high in protein, low in saturated fat and a great source of omega-3s. Experts point to salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines and albacore tuna as key options.

Omega-3s help with lowering cholesterol, fighting inflammation that can damage blood vessels, decreasing triglycerides, and lowering blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Kwong’s full findings were published Monday night in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

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