Taking omega-3 fish oil supplements may help people recover after a heart attack, research suggests.
Scientists at Harvard Medical School found that giving their patients 4g of omega-3 capsules a day for six months improved the strength of the heart and reduced scarring.
Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally, representing almost a third of all deaths.
Of these deaths, an estimated 7.4 million were due to coronary heart disease and 6.7 million were due to stroke.
People who do survive the attack are often left with a severely weakened heart, with scarring and muscle damage reducing the organ’s ability to pump blood around the body.
Thousands each year go on to develop heart failure, which means the heart is too weak to supply blood where it is needed, leaving people breathless and too weak to walk more than a few steps.
The chance of suffering these symptoms has reduced in recent years, mainly because the creation of 24/7 acute cardiac units means patients are treated more quickly after an attack, significantly lowering the damage suffered.
But with so many people still suffering heart attacks – partly due to poor lifestyles and diet, which increase the risk of an attack – doctors are desperate to find ways to help people recover quickly.
The new study, published in the Circulation medical journal, suggests that simple fish oil could help the heart heal.
The omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in high levels in sardines, salmon, and trout, improved the structure and tissue of the heart, the researchers found.
The Harvard scientists compared tracked 360 heart attack survivors – half were given a high dose of omega-3 fatty acids and half were not.
The omega-3 group were given 4g of capsules every day for six months after an attack – roughly four times the normal dose.
Because the dose was so high, participants were closely monitored throughout the trial.
Scans showed that after six months they had 5.6 per cent less scar tissue in their heart muscle, compared to those who did not take the supplements.
Their left ventricle – the chamber of the heart responsible for pumping blood around the body – was able to squeeze 5.8 per cent stronger, meaning blood could be pumped out more powerfully.
Researcher Dr Raymond Kwong said: “Heart failure is still a major problem after a heart attack despite all the therapy we have and the advances in interventional care.
“Our findings show that omega-3 fatty acids are 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.”
The scientists are not sure exactly why omega-3 helped the heart recover following an attack, but suspect these fatty acids reduce inflammation, helping the healing process.
Omega-3 acids are also known to improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and reduce fat build-up in the arteries.
The NHS recommends that people eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily, in order to get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.
But about two thirds of people do not meet this advice.
To get the amount of omega-3 used in the study – 4g a day – from natural sources would require someone to eat the equivalent of 200g of salmon daily.
Source: Daily Mail