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updated: 9/11/2012 11:28 PM

Scientists say fish oil doesn't lower heart attack risk

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Bloomberg News

Looks like a fish oil pill a day won't keep the doctor away.

Scientists who reviewed data from about 68,000 patients gathered in 20 trials over the past 24 years found that men and women taking fish oil supplements didn't lower their risk for a bevy of ills including heart attacks, strokes and death.

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Diverging recommendations about the benefits of fish-oil supplements, which contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, can "cause confusion in everyday clinical practice about whether to use these agents for cardiovascular protection," Moses Elisaf and his colleagues from the University of Ioannina in Greece wrote in the paper.

The scientists concluded that the use of fish-oil pills is unnecessary to ward off heart disease, a conclusion that contradicts other studies that found the supplements beneficial.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association today, belongs to a form of research known as a meta-analysis, which evaluates data from previous investigations without doing new clinical work.

The patients involved were largely of European descent and took an average of 1.5 grams (0.05 ounces) of omega-3 supplements a day for a median of two years.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times a week. It advises patients with chronic heart disease to consume one gram of omega-3 fatty acids a day, preferably through their diets. Some patients may need to take fish oil supplements to reach that threshold in consultation with their physicians, according to the AHA.

Humans can't make omega-3 fatty acids from scratch, but need them for healthy brain function as well as growth and development. These acids can be found in fish as well as in foods such as walnuts and flaxseed.

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