Fish oil drugs protect heart health, 2 studies say
Two major studies released Saturday provide evidence that medications derived from fish oil are effective in protecting people from fatal heart attacks, strokes and other forms of cardiovascular disease.
The large, multiyear research efforts tested different formulations and quantities of drugs made with Omega-3 fatty acids on two groups of people: one that suffered from cardiovascular disease or diabetes and another that represented the general population. Both studies found that people who took the drugs every day enjoyed protection against some heart and circulatory problems compared with those given a placebo.
In a look at another commonly consumed supplement, Vitamin D, researchers found no effect on heart disease but saw a link to a decline in cancer deaths over time.
The research was released Saturday at the American Heart Association's 2018 Scientific Sessions in Chicago and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
About 43 million people in the United States take statins to lower LDL, or "bad," cholesterol, and the drugs are credited with reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. But heart disease remains the leading killer of Americans. In recent years, a long, steady decrease in heart disease deaths has slowed. So researchers continue to seek other ways to combat cardiovascular disease beyond known protective factors such as changes in diet, exercise and smoking habits.
One of the studies unveiled Saturday, named by the acronym REDUCE-IT, determined that people with cardiovascular disease who were already taking statins stood less chance of serious heart issues when they were also given 2 grams of the drug Vascepa (icosapent ethyl) twice a day.
The drug is a purified version of a fish oil component that targets triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood. Elevated triglycerides can harden or thicken arteries, potentially leading to strokes and heart attacks. People who took the drug were compared with those who were given a placebo. The study involved more than 8,000 people.
The drug is made by Amarin Corp., which sponsored the research. In September, Amarin announced that the study had met its primary goals.
Deepak Bhatt, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who led the study, said the results could change the practice of cardiology in the same way that the introduction of statins did more than 30 years ago.