Fish Oil Studies: Cardiovascular Health - EBI Nutrition

Fish Oil Studies: Cardiovascular Health

  • 6 min read

Omega-3 fatty acids, or more specifically EPA and DHA as found in fish oil, have been the topic of discussion in over 12000 scientific papers. 1500 of these papers are clinical studies of EPA and DHA. The summaries below provide a small selection of human clinical studies and position statements of medical associations regarding various cardiovascular uses of fish oil.


Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: new recommendations from the American Heart Association.

Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ; AHA Nutrition Committee. American Heart Association.

“For patients with documented CHD, the AHA recommends 1 g of EPA and DHA (combined) per day. This may be obtained from the consumption of oily fish or from omega-3 fatty acid capsules, although the decision to use the latter should be made in consultation with a physician. The amount of EPA and DHA in fish and fish oil is presented in the recent AHA Scientific Advisory on omega-3 fatty acids and CVD”.

“An EPA+DHA supplement may be useful in patients with hypertriglyceridemia. Two to four grams of EPA+DHA per day can lower triglyceride 20% to 40%. Patients taking more than three grams of these fatty acids from supplements should do so only under a physician’s care. Very high ("Eskimo") intakes could cause excessive bleeding in some people.”

PMID: 12588750

Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2003 Feb 1;23(2):151-2.


5- Year Controlled Human Trial In 18645 People

Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on major coronary events in hypercholesterolaemic patients (JELIS): a randomised open-label, blinded endpoint analysis.

Yokoyama M, Origasa H, Matsuzaki M, Matsuzawa Y, Saito Y, Ishikawa Y, Oikawa S, Sasaki J, Hishida H, Itakura H, Kita T, Kitabatake A, Nakaya N, Sakata T, Shimada K, Shirato K; Japan EPA lipid intervention study (JELIS) Investigators.

BACKGROUND: Epidemiological and clinical evidence suggests that an increased intake of long-chain n-3 fatty acids protects against mortality from coronary artery disease. We aimed to test the hypothesis that long-term use of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is effective for prevention of major coronary events in hypercholesterolaemic patients in Japan who consume a large amount of fish.

METHODS: 18 645 patients with a total cholesterol of 6.5 mmol/L or greater were recruited from local physicians throughout Japan between 1996 and 1999. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either 1800 mg of EPA daily with statin (EPA group; n=9326) or statin only (controls; n=9319) with a 5-year follow-up. The primary endpoint was any major coronary event, including sudden cardiac death, fatal and non-fatal myocardial infarction, and other non-fatal events including unstable angina pectoris, angioplasty, stenting, or coronary artery bypass grafting. Analysis was by intention-to-treat. The study was registered at, number NCT00231738.

FINDINGS: At mean follow-up of 4.6 years, we detected the primary endpoint in 262 (2.8%) patients in the EPA group and 324 (3.5%) in controls-a 19% relative reduction in major coronary events (p=0.011). Post-treatment LDL cholesterol concentrations decreased 25%, from 4.7mmol/L in both groups. Serum LDL cholesterol was not a significant factor in a reduction of risk for major coronary events. Unstable angina and non-fatal coronary events were also significantly reduced in the EPA group. Sudden cardiac death and coronary death did not differ between groups. In patients with a history of coronary artery disease who were given EPA treatment, major coronary events were reduced by 19% (secondary prevention subgroup: 158 [8.7%] in the EPA group vs 197 [10.7%] in the control group; p=0.048). In patients with no history of coronary artery disease, EPA treatment reduced major coronary events by 18%, but this finding was not significant (104 [1.4%] in the EPA group vs 127 [1.7%] in the control group; p=0.132).

INTERPRETATION: EPA is a promising treatment for prevention of major coronary events, and especially non-fatal coronary events, in Japanese hypercholesterolaemic patients.

PMID: 17398308

Lancet. 2007 Mar 31;369(9567):1090-8.


2-Year Controlled Human Trial In 11383 People

Early protection against sudden death by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids after myocardial infarction: time-course analysis of the results of the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell'Infarto Miocardico (GISSI)-Prevenzione.

BACKGROUND: Our purpose was to assess the time course of the benefit of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) on mortality documented by the GISSI-Prevenzione trial in patients surviving a recent (<3 months) myocardial infarction.

METHODS AND RESULTS: In this study, 11 323 patients were randomly assigned to supplements of n-3 PUFAs, vitamin E (300 mg/d), both, or no treatment (control) on top of optimal pharmacological treatment and lifestyle advice. Intention-to-treat analysis adjusted for interaction between treatments was carried out. Early efficacy of n-3 PUFA treatment for total, cardiovascular, cardiac, coronary, and sudden death; nonfatal myocardial infarction; total coronary heart disease; and cerebrovascular events was assessed by right-censoring follow-up data 12 times from the first month after randomization up to 12 months. Survival curves for n-3 PUFA treatment diverged early after randomization, and total mortality was significantly lowered after 3 months of treatment (relative risk [RR] 0.59; 95% CI 0.36 to 0.97; P=0.037). The reduction in risk of sudden death was specifically relevant and statistically significant already at 4 months (RR 0.47; 95% CI 0.219 to 0.995; P=0.048). A similarly significant, although delayed, pattern after 6 to 8 months of treatment was observed for cardiovascular, cardiac, and coronary deaths.

CONCLUSIONS: The early effect of low-dose (1 g/d) n-3 PUFAs on total mortality and sudden death supports the hypothesis of an antiarrhythmic effect of this drug. Such a result is consistent with the wealth of evidence coming from laboratory experiments on isolated myocytes, animal models, and epidemiological and clinical studies.

PMID: 11997274

Circulation. 2002 Apr 23;105(16):1897-903. 


Review Discussing Antiarrythmic Effects Of Fish Oil

Antiarrhythmic effects of omega-3 fatty acids.

Reiffel JA, McDonald A.

Fish oil, and omega-3 fatty acids in particular, have been found to reduce plasma levels of triglycerides and increase levels of high-density lipoprotein in patients with marked hypertriglyceridemia, and a pharmaceutical-grade preparation has recently received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to market for this purpose. However, in both bench research studies and clinical trials, evidence for clinically significant antiarrhythmic properties has also been detected in association with omega-3 fatty acid intake. Arguably the most significant finding in this data set was the reduction in the incidence of sudden death in survivors of myocardial infarction in the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell'Infarto Miocardico (GISSI)-Prevenzione trial and the subsequent recommendation for administration of fish oil as part of the postinfarction regimen in Europe. This article reviews in detail the basic and clinical research studies of fish oil as an antiarrhythmic entity, the forms of preparation and/or administration that appear to possess these properties and those that do not, the types of arrhythmias (ventricular ectopy and atrial fibrillation as well as ventricular tachyarrhythmias) that have been beneficially affected by fish oil administration, and the presumed and known mechanisms by which the beneficial actions are exerted.

PMID: 16919517

Am J Cardiol. 2006 Aug 21;98(4A):50i-60i.


Review Discussing Fish Oil For Individuals Who Have Heart Disease

Secondary prevention of coronary artery disease with omega-3 fatty acids.

Jacobson TA.

Omega-3 fatty acid therapy is a promising intervention for the secondary prevention of coronary artery disease (CAD). Omega-3 fatty acids have properties that promote atherosclerotic plaque stability and decrease the incidence of ischemia-driven cardiac arrhythmias. A large number of clinical trials conducted in patients with CAD or prior myocardial infarction (MI) have examined hard cardiovascular end points, including total mortality, cardiovascular mortality, sudden death, and nonfatal MI. Several intermediate cardiovascular end-point studies have also examined whether ventricular arrhythmias can be suppressed in patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). Significant reductions in total mortality and sudden death--20% to 50%--have been found in studies using doses of 0.85 to 4.0 g/day, with treatment durations from 12 to 42 months. Favorable trends toward reduction in the incidence of arrhythmic events have been demonstrated in some, but not all, ICD studies. Omega-3 fatty acid therapy shows a general positive trend toward benefit in reducing life-threatening events after MI and in patients with ICDs who have ischemic arrhythmias. Results of the recent Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study (JELIS) in a large cohort (N = 18,645) of Japanese men and women suggest significant benefits in the reduction of unstable angina and nonfatal coronary events. The totality of evidence supports a strong role for omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil in secondary prevention through a presumptive role as an antiarrhythmic agent and through an ability to promote plaque stabilization.

PMID: 16919518

Am J Cardiol. 2006 Aug 21;98(4A):61i-70i.

Search our shop