A new American Heart Association report says people with heart failure may live longer by taking omega-3 fish oil supplements because they seem to reduce the heart disease death rate by almost 10 percent.
The association had previously concluded that such supplements may prevent death from heart disease in people who have already had a heart attack, but warned there is no solid evidence that fish oil can prevent heart disease in the first place, primarily because the issue hasn't been studied.
"Reducing mortality by 10 percent would be important from a personal level and a population level," coauthor Dr. David Siscovick said about the new advice for people with heart failure.
The scientific advisory published in the association's journal Circulation updates a 2002 guidance with data from 15 newer studies. It comes at a time when about 19 million Americans - nearly 8 percent of the U.S. population - are already taking the supplements, many of whom may not be getting any real value from them.
"This is very useful data. It's going to help stratify who might benefit," said Dr. Karen Aspry of the Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute in Providence, Rhode Island, who was not connected with the analysis.
"Patients come in, they have questions, and clinicians are often left scratching their heads because they think the data are all over the place," she said. "This gives them some guideposts and a framework so they can say, for this patient it's a good idea, and for this other patient it's not a good idea because we don't have enough data yet."
Supplement use may be common but there is a lack of evidence of benefit in the general population, said Siscovick, who is senior vice president for research at the New York Academy of Medicine in New York City.