A study by the University Hospital of Ioannina in Greece, first published last month but only recently receiving wider prominence, claims that the health benefits claimed for omega-3 do not exist.
The study, which was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, comprised a meta-analysis of numerous previous clinical trials involving more than 68,000 participants, and concluded that fatty acids have no impact on overall death rates, deaths from heart disease, or strokes and heart attacks.
The study echoes the findings of one undertaken earlier this year by a group of Korean researchers. Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it did not find a lower risk of heart events or death in over 20,000 people with a history of cardiovascular disease that were taking omega-3 supplements.
Commentators have been quick to condemn the study for its potential to discourage the inclusion of appropriate amounts of omega-3 in the diet in the face of what is said to be overwhelming evidence that supports its beneficial effects on health.
In the Ioannina research, twenty studies of 68,680 patients were included, reporting 7,044 deaths, 3,993 cardiac deaths, 1,150 sudden deaths, 1,837 myocardial infarctions, and 1,490 strokes. The report said that no statistically significant association was observed with all-cause mortality
Researchers said patients at the University Hospital of Ioannina did not show a statistically significant reduction in death or heart illness, and questioned whether omega-3 should be administered proactively when trying to optimise a patient's heart health.
Overall, the study concluded, omega-3 PUFA supplementation was not associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiac death, sudden death, myocardial infarction, or stroke based on relative and absolute measures of association.
In conclusion, omega-3 PUFAs are not statistically significantly associated with major cardiovascular outcomes across various patient populations, the study said.
"Our findings do not justify the use of omega-3 as a structured intervention in everyday clinical practice or guidelines supporting dietary omega-3," said Evangelos Rizos, chief author of the study.