Fish oil and heart disease
Fish oil, with its omega-3 fats, is widely recommended as a supplement meant to reduce your risk of heart disease. It has become big business and many people wrongly believe that popping a fish oil capsule daily will protect their heart. It is true that we need omega-3s in our diet but the claim that fish oil can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease and all its complications is simply not supported by the science.
The most comprehensive review of evidence on the subject – a Cochrane review – found that taking omega-3 supplements (from any source) may ever so slightly reduce your risk of major cardiovascular events (heart attack or stroke) and dying from heart disease (Abdelhamid et al., 2020). However, these supplements do not reduce the risk of heart disease developing in the first place. The authors also noted that eating fish did not seem to have any effect.
Another set of studies found a concerning effect of fish oil supplements – they may actually increase the risk of atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) by 25 per cent and if you take more than one gram daily, the risk may increase by up to 49 per cent (Gencer et al., 2021). Interestingly, plant-based omega-3s (ALA from flaxseed or flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp seed, walnuts or rapeseed oil) lower the risk (Abdelhamid et al., 2020).
Fish oil, just like any other “miracle cure” cannot make your heart healthy if your overall diet and lifestyle are lacking and thanks to the pollutants it contains, it might be even harmful. On the other hand, plant oils are healthy and may help to protect your heart, especially if you also have a wholesome vegan diet. Vegans and people whose diets are mainly plant-based have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than all other diet groups and a much lower risk of heart disease – 25-57 per cent (Bradbury et al., 2014; Le and Sabaté, 2014; Appleby and Key, 2016; Dinu et al., 2017; Benatar and Stewart, 2018; Kahleova et al., 2018; Korakas et al., 2018; Matsumoto et al., 2019).
Going fish-free is not just a healthy choice, it’s also an ethical and sustainable one. If you’re used to meals based around fish and other animal products, the idea of a plant-based diet may be daunting but we’re here to help make it super easy!