Woman Holding Fish Oil Pill
Healthy Living
Fish Oil Can Be Good For Your Heart - If You Have a History of Heart Disease

A coronary artery calcium test helps you and your doctor see what’s happening inside your heart. This scan measures calcium-containing plaque in the arteries and may detect coronary artery disease before you show any signs or symptoms. By understanding where your heart health stands, your doctor can recommend an individualized treatment plan to help you reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

For more information about getting a coronary calcium test, please make an appointment with a MetroHealth primary care physician at metrohealth.org/appointments. You can also find a primary care doctor near you at metrohealth.org/physician.


A trip down the supplement aisle of your local pharmacy may lead you to think the simple answer to heart health lies inside of a shiny gel capsule. Many people take over-the-counter fish oil and vitamin D, which have long been proclaimed to prevent heart disease. But are these supplements the best route to a healthy heart? The latest research suggests those claims come up short. 

So what works?

“If you want to prevent heart disease, you’re better off getting enough exercise and eating a healthy Mediterranean and DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet,” said MetroHealth cardiologist Ashish Aneja, MD. “In fact, I can’t emphasize the role of diet and exercise enough.” Genetics matter too. If you are at high risk for heart disease, medication may be needed in addition to lifestyle changes.

The Research: Your Heart History Matters

In one study, researchers found taking a dose of vitamin D did not help prevent the development of heart disease in people with no history of heart problems. In addition, over-the-counter fish oil supplements had limited benefits.

In other research, scientists evaluated patients with a history of heart disease who were taking statins. Researchers found that a prescription form of fish oil reduced levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the bloodstream. Patients taking the fish oil supplement also had a lower risk of death from heart attack and stroke and had lower levels of chest pain.

The Takeaway on Supplements

Based on these studies, Dr. Aneja does not recommend vitamin D and over-the-counter fish oil as a strategy for cardiovascular disease prevention in people who have good heart health. If triglyceride levels are very high, you may need to discuss pharmaceutical options with your primary care doctor.

However, he does consider prescribing purified EPA fish oil to patients with heart disease who are taking statins but may need to further lower their triglycerides. Purified fish oil may also benefit patients who are at higher risk of developing heart disease because of diabetes or a history of smoking.

Steps to Keep Your Heart in Tip-Top Shape

What can you do to boost your heart health? Dr. Aneja has the following tips:

Eat A Healthy Diet: The Mediterranean and DASH diets emphasize eating lots of plants including whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, less red meat, more heart-healthy fish like salmon and mackerel, and very little processed or fried foods. “Cardiologists believe that eating these are the best way to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, helping prevent cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Aneja.

Get Your Heart Pumping: The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 2½ hours of aerobic exercise, or physical activity that gets the heart pumping, each week. Build up to a goal of 30-45 minutes of activity a day. Dr. Aneja recommends starting with small changes to increase activity level, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator and using an inexpensive step counter to reach a daily target of 10,000 steps. “These small changes have significant benefits,” he said. “Aside from weight loss, exercise has been shown to improve balance and mood, and prevent other common but debilitating conditions such as depression and osteoporosis.”

Ask Your Doctor for a Heart Risk Assessment: Not every patient is the same, so this risk assessment should be personalized and detailed. Your doctor should consider risk factors such as smoking history, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, family history, ethnicity and underlying health conditions such as chronic kidney disease, metabolic syndrome, premature menopause and pre-eclampsia. A coronary artery calcium test, which is a special imaging test of the heart, can help you and your doctor decide whether you may need to take statins.

A Scan Can Help Assess Your Risk

A coronary artery calcium test helps you and your doctor see what’s happening inside your heart. This scan measures calcium-containing plaque in the arteries and may detect coronary artery disease before you show any signs or symptoms. By understanding where your heart stands, your doctor can recommend an individualized treatment plan to help you reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

For information about getting a coronary calcium test, please make an appointment with a MetroHealth primary care physician at metrohealth.org/appointments. You can also find a primary care doctor near you at metrohealth.org/physician.

 

Ashish Aneja, MD   Contributor
   Anish Aneja, MD  
   Cardiology