Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce mortality from heart disease

BASEL, SWITZERLAND. Hyperlipidemia, or excess levels of fats in the blood, is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Many lipid-lowering agents exist for both primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

To determine the overall benefit of these agents on mortality, a group of researchers at the University Hospital Basel reviewed the most reliable published studies. They searched for good- quality randomized, controlled trials between 1965 and 2003, comparing lipid-lowering drugs or dietary interventions against placebo. This process left them with 35 trials on statins, 17 on fibrates, 8 on resins, 2 on niacin, 14 on omega-3 fatty acids, and 17 on other dietary interventions. This produced a total of 137,140 participants in treatments groups and 138,976 in control groups.

A combined analysis showed that treatment with omega-3 fatty acids (fish and flaxseed oils) reduced overall risk of death by 23 per cent as compared to placebo. Treatment with statin drugs, on the other hand, only reduced overall mortality by 13 per cent as compared to placebo. Fibrates (gemfibrozil, fenofibrates), bile acid resins (cholestyramine, colestipol), niacin and dietary interventions showed no statistically significant differences from results obtained in the control groups.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease-Related Death

Deaths from cardiovascular causes were 32 per cent lower in the omega-3 fatty acid groups than in control (placebo) groups. Statin drugs reduced cardiovascular mortality by 22 per cent and the use of bile acid resins were associated with a 30 per cent decline in cardiovascular mortality. When death from non-cardiovascular causes was considered, none of the interventions were significantly linked to reduced mortality. However, fibrates were linked to a 13 per cent increased risk of death.

The effects on mortality tended to be more pronounced in longer studies and those with patients whose cardiovascular disease was well established, say the authors. Regarding n-3 fatty acids, they speculate that the reduction in mortality risk does not occur through a reduction in cholesterol but by other means, possibly antiarrhythmic, antithrombotic or anti-inflammatory effects.

Researcher Note Benefits and Recommend Further Trials

The trials of n-3 fatty acids used different dietary and supplement sources; nevertheless, the authors conclude that this study adds to the positive evidence for n-3 fatty acids. They suggest that further trials be carried out to examine the effects of combined treatment with n-3 fatty acids and statins.
Studer, M., et al. Effect of different antilipidemic agents and diets on mortality. Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 165, April 2005, pp. 725-30

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