The Latest Omega-3 Research and How It Affects You

The Latest Omega-3 Research and How It Affects You

This post was sponsored by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED). All thoughts are my own.

A new study funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) examining the relationship between omega-3s and heart disease and cancer was recently released. The initial conclusion has some headlines saying omega-3s are ineffective, while others tout the benefits of taking omega-3 supplements, leaving the public confused on what to do when it comes to these vital nutrients. It has become commonplace in our society that every time a new study is released, headlines confuse consumers because they don’t put the study into perspective with all the other research that is out there. Upon thoroughly reading the study, it shows promising results, especially among two groups of people. Here’s a look into what is called VITAL, and what it means for your omega-3 intake.

A Look Into the VITAL Study

The VITamin D and OmegA-3 Trial (VITAL) was conducted among 25,871 older adults (ages 50 and older), over the course of five years. The question was whether taking 2,000 IU daily of vitamin D3 and/or 1g of omega-3s (supplying 840 mg of EPA and DHA) reduces the risk of major cardiovascular events*, that is: heart attack, stroke, or death related to cardiovascular disease (CVD). The study also examined the total invasive cancer (such as breast, prostate, and colorectal) in people who do not have a history of cancer.

*[Think of an event like something that occurs in a moment in time, like a heart attack or, well, death. A condition is something you’d have for a while, like coronary heart disease.]

At the end of the study, there was no meaningful risk reduction when these cardiovascular events were looked at all together, as the researchers originally intended. But after looking more closely at the data, researchers found that omega-3s reduce risk for certain specific events and conditions:

  • There was a 28% reduced risk for non-fatal heart attacks among the omega-3 group (145 reported heart attacks in the omega-3 group compared to 200 among those taking placebo).
  • There was a 50% reduced risk for fatal heart attacks (although to be fair there were not a lot of fatal heart attacks reported: the omega-3 group had 13 fatal heart attacks compared to 26 in those taking placebo.)
  • There was a 17% reduced risk for total coronary heart disease (CHD)*, with the omega-3 group reporting 308 CHD cases verses 370 in those taking placebo.

*[Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a term that encompasses the heart and all blood vessels in the body. It includes events such as heart attacks (impaired blood flow to the heart), stroke (impaired blood flow to the brain) and conditions that can lead to these events such as clogged arteries. Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is a type of CVD that affects the heart only.]

In addition, there were two specific groups of people where the results are really promising: those with a low fish intake and African Americans. More research is needed to really understand these findings.

The study results also found that whether a person was given omega-3 or placebo, it did not change the effects of cancer. This is not surprising, given that cancer protection is not a known benefit of taking omega-3s.

Putting the Research into Context

It is important to put this study in perspective as this is one of more than 3,000 human clinical trials on EPA and DHA omega-3s. Adding VITAL to the pool of research, when you take all the data from all the people involved in all the trials on omega-3s and cardiovascular effects, the evidence that omega-3s help reduce the risk for CHD and non-fatal heart attacks is even stronger.

How Much Should You Take?

After thorough review of international standards for EPA and DHA intake, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) recommends the following daily intake:

  • 500 mg per day for healthy adults to lower risk of coronary heart disease.
  • 700-1000 mg per day to slow the progression of cardiovascular disease after it’s been diagnosed.
  • For pregnant and lactating women, 700 mg per day of EPA and DHA, with at least 300 mg as DHA.
  • More than 1 g (1,000 mg) per day for adults with additional health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels or other cardiovascular risks.

You can reach the daily recommended intake by eating two servings of fatty fish per week or taking a daily omega-3 supplement.

One More Thing

Heart health isn’t the only area where omega-3s have shown to be beneficial. Omega-3s are found in every cell of the body, and EPA and DHA are associated with cognitive health, eye health and prenatal health. The website has a lot of great information, written in easy-to-understand language, as well as videos to help educate on the importance of omega-3s.

  • Erin Palinski-Wade
    Posted at 06:03h, 16 November Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this and for clearing up the confusion! I cant wait to share this!

  • Christy Brissette
    Posted at 12:10h, 16 November Reply

    Thanks for this deep dive into the research, Toby… a great reminder that when there’s more than 3,000 studies on a topic, one study doesn’t carry as much weight!

  • Liz Weiss, MS, RDN
    Posted at 15:50h, 16 November Reply

    Thanks for putting this research into perspective. It’s good to know that there are now thousands of studies out there showing the heart, brain and eye benefits of omega-3s.

  • Gus Alk
    Posted at 20:11h, 28 November Reply

    This is extremely useful to clarify the matters around omega-3 supplement intake. Thank you for your analysis. I always thought that the best way to get omega-3 is through foods such as salmon but it seems that the research for supplements was also positive after all.

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