The widespread belief that taking omega-3 capsules will help protect you from a heart attack, stroke or early death is wrong, according to a large and comprehensive review of the evidence. Thousands of people take omega-3 supplements regularly and for years. The belief that it protects the heart has spread – and is promoted in the marketing of the supplements – because the results from early trials suggested the capsules had cardiovascular benefits.
Small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, are essential for our health. Omega-3 fats are found in certain foods – most famously in oily fish such as salmon and cod liver oil, which contain the long chain fats called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Nuts and seeds, and in particular walnuts and rapeseed oil, contain another sort of omega-3, called alphalinolenic acid (ALA). But a major review by the respected Cochrane collaboration of all the well-conducted trials carried out internationally to test the effect of omega-3, involving more than 112,000 people, says there is no evidence that the supplements do any good.
“We can be confident in the findings of this review which go against the popular belief that long-chain omega-3 supplements protect the heart,” said Cochrane lead author, Dr Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia. “This large systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods. Despite all this information, we don’t see protective effects.”