Taking a single fish oil capsule daily could save the lives of 10,000 heart failure patients a year. That’s the claim from doctors following a review of studies into treatment with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
In the review, published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, Professor Martin Cowie looked at two studies carried out in Italy. The studies, into over 17,000 patients, involved people who’d had a heart attack in the last three months, or who had chronic heart failure. Those patients who received one gram of omega-3 oils a day had a significant reduction in death rate.
“About 700,000 people in the UK have heart failure,” explained Professor Cowie, who is Professor of Cardiology at Imperial College London and Royal Brompton Hospital. On top of good treatment for heart disease, such as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, the studies showed that taking this type of omega-3 resulted in a nine percent reduction in death rate and an eight percent drop in people needing to be hospitalised.
“If you don’t have two to three oily fish meals a week – and a lot of people don’t – you should consider taking this special form of fish oil supplement for several years after a heart attack,” says Professor Cowie. He feels it important that people realise this is more than just sensible advice. “There is good evidence here, and we should try to get this into the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines, and try to get doctors to prescribe this form of medicine for their patients,” said Professor Cowie.
“The important point here is that a lot of people will have read about fish oil being good for you and think that they can go to their local shop and buy any old cod liver oil capsules. But the form of the medicine given in these studies is a highly concentrated, highly purified form of fish oil, called Omacor.
“I use it in my practice, lots of doctors do, but not all.” You can ask your GP to prescribe it for you if you have heart problems. You can also ask your pharmacist, who will probably need to ask you a few questions about your medical history, to make sure this treatment is appropriate for you. If you do take this route, make sure to tell your doctor that you are taking it, and don’t stop taking existing medicines unless you have first discussed it with your doctor.
“This medication is a reasonable way of spending money in the Health Service,” said Professor Cowie. “Not only is it effective clinically, it’s cost effective.” Omacor capsules cost the NHS about 50p per patient per day. Bought from your local pharmacy they will probably cost around £15 for a month’s supply.