Fish oil linked to major heart health benefits, but there's a catch

It's no secret that a diet high in fish comes with certain heart-health benefits, but questions remain over the benefits of taking various fish oil and omega-3 supplements. A new analysis has found that taking fish oil may have a major protective effect on one's cardiovascular health, but there's a catch: the results were based on taking a highly purified form of fish oil that isn't available over the counter.

The statistical analysis comes from the University of California, Irvine, which predicts that using highly purified fish oil may have a profound effect on preventing dangerous cardiovascular events like strokes and heart attacks. The substance is called icosapent ethyl, and it is a stable, purified version of EPA, one of the two long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in common omega-3 supplements.

The new analysis pulls data from multiple sources, including the REDUCE-IT trial, which found that this highly purified fish oil may 'substantially' benefit people who have diabetes or heart disease and who also have high triglyceride levels. According to the results of REDUCE-IT, these patients who take icosapent ethyl had a 25-percent risk of experiencing cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes.

Based on those findings, the new analysis looks at the potential effects this purified fish oil may have across the US population of adults who have diabetes or heart disease, as well as other risk factors for cardiovascular events. The results suggest that this type of therapy could prevent in excess of 70,000 of these incidents annually, which works out to preventing one event for every 21 patients.

At this point in time, icosapent ethyl is only available in the form of a prescription called Vascepa in the US, which recently gained FDA approval for use with certain patients who have high triglycerides and who meet certain other criteria. The drug is approved for use alongside statins.