When it comes to your health, the old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is definitely a motto to live by. However, if you’ve been taking certain supplements in hopes of preventing a future heart problem, stroke, or cancer diagnosis, vitamin D and fish oil may not prevent heart disease or cancer after all, according to two new studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
While there is evidence that making fish oil part of your daily routine after experiencing a heart attack can prevent a second cardiac event, and it does have other benefits, the results of what’s known as the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, found that preventative claims may have been overstated.
The studies, which included more than 25,000 men and women in the U.S., investigated whether or not taking daily dietary supplements of vitamin D3 and/or omega-3 fatty acids actually reduced the risk for developing cancer, heart disease, and stroke in people who did not have a prior history of these illnesses, VITAL noted on its website. Key findings from the studies included the discovery that while vitamin D did appear to reduce cancer-related deaths, it did not reduce the actual risk of cancer, heart attack, or stroke as previously thought.
The results of whether or not omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of a cardiac episode yielded similar results with a few unexpected exceptions. While omega-3 fatty acid supplements did not reduce the risk of cancer or major cardiovascular events overall, it actually did lower the risk by 19 percent in people with low fish intake.
When separated from other cardiovascular events, omega-3 fatty acids also reduced heart attacks by 28 percent and lowered the risk of fatal heart attacks by 50 percent. What’s more, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation led to a 77-percent reduction in heart attacks in black study participants, regardless of their level of fish intake.
“The results indicate that people with low dietary intake of fish will likely obtain a heart benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation,” Dr. JoAnn Manson, study co-director, said in VITAL’s analysis of the results. “On the other hand, those with higher fish consumption do not appear to benefit, perhaps because they are already meeting their omega-3 requirements by eating fish. This pattern of results implies that, while a modest amount of fish oil is desirable, more may not necessarily be better.”