A new study suggests that heart attack patients given a steady diet of fish oil replete with omega-3 fatty acids for six months following a heart attack can improve the function of the heart and reduce scarring on the parts of the heart unaffected by the attack.

Fish Oil
Image source: Pixabay

Study doesn’t claim all should take, but most should

Following a heart attack, parts of the heart are deprived of oxygen and these parts never fully recover. As a result, the healthy parts of the heart do a bit of overcompensating and this leads to scarring from overwork. It’s a bit of a damned it if you do damned if you don’t affair as you need a functioning heart.

“The omega-3 fatty acids seem to be preventing scarring of the otherwise healthy muscle that now has to overwork because of the heart attack,” says Kwong.

The study, which was published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, suggested that the condition known as remodeling, which occurs after a heart attack can be less adverse through a steady diet of fish oil and its omega-3 fatty acid content.

Presently, there are few treatments that prevent this imminent remodeling so the study has many patients and doctors alike optimistic.

“Heart failure is still a major problem after a heart attack despite all the therapy we have and the advances in interventional care,” said Raymond Y. Kwong, M.D., M.P.H., the lead author of the study and director of Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Kwong is also an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.  “Our findings show that omega-3 fatty acids are a safe and effective treatment in improving cardiac remodeling, 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.”

Details of the study and participants

360 people who had recently suffered a heart attack participated in the study with half given a placebo and the other half given 4g of omega-3 fatty acids each day for six months. This is a very high dose of omega-3 fatty acids as 1/4 pound serving of salmon rarely has as much as a gram and can be as low as a half-a-gram.

Every two months the participants underwent an MRI to look at the improvements (or lack of) in the remodeling of the heart muscle.

Those given omega-3 fatty acids exhibited 13% less scarring than those who absorb omega-3s the poorest and all not in the placebo group showed 6% less decline in heart function.

“The omega-3 fatty acids seem to be preventing scarring of the otherwise healthy muscle that now has to overwork because of the heart attack,” says Kwong.

“To say every [heart attack] patient should be taking omega-3 fatty acids right away is a bit premature,” he says. “But I do think it’s logical that our results hold promise, and may reduce bad outcomes in patients after a heart attack.”

It’s important to note that the study is not the end all be all as most participants were taking other drugs on top the addition of omega-3 fatty acids and each were under the care of their own physicians. It’s likely that some people simply were in better shape prior to their attacks so the study should be taken with a grain of salt and, apparently, omega-3.