Meta-analysis finds omega-3 fatty acids improved cardiovascular outcomes

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Omega-3 fatty acids improved cardiovascular outcomes, according to new results published in the journal eClinical Medicine, which showed a significantly greater reduction in cardiovascular risk in studies of EPA alone rather than EPA and DHA combination supplements.

For the study, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital performed a meta-analysis of 38 randomized clinical trials of omega-3 fatty acids, including trials of EPA monotherapy and EPA+DHA therapy. In total, these trials included more than 149,000 participants. They evaluated key cardiovascular outcomes, including cardiovascular mortality, non-fatal cardiovascular outcomes, bleeding, and atrial fibrillation.

Overall, omega-3 fatty acids reduced cardiovascular mortality and improved cardiovascular outcomes. The trials of EPA showed higher relative reductions in cardiovascular outcomes compared to those of EPA+DHA.

The researchers note that there are crucial biological differences between EPA and DHA -- while both are considered omega-3 fatty acids, they have different chemical properties that influence their stability and strength of the effect that they can have on cholesterol molecules and cell membranes. No trials to date have studied the effects of DHA alone on cardiovascular outcomes.

“This meta-analysis provides reassurance about the role of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically prescription EPA,” said Deepak Bhatt, MD, MPH, senior author of the study and the executive director of Interventional Cardiovascular Programs at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in a statement. “It should encourage investigators to explore further the cardiovascular effects of EPA across different clinical settings.”