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Fish oil benefits for heart disease in doubt

24th March 2006

Fish oils are less effective than was previously understood in helping prevent heart disease, a new report published today by the British Medical Journal has found.

Short and long chains of omega-3 fats found in oily fish make little or no difference to mortality rates among subjects at risk of heart disease, strokes and cancer, the report claims.

Although the study concluded that it was "not clear" whether or not a higher intake of omega-3 helped or hindered people's health, organisations like the British Heart Foundation (BHF) have leapt to fish oil's defence.

"People should not stop consuming omega-3 fats or eating oily fish as a result of this study," said Dr Mike Knapton, director of prevention and care at the BHF.

"Until now, medical research has demonstrated a benefit from omega-3 fats in protecting people from heart and circulatory disease."

Government guidelines distributed by the Food Standards Agency recommending that oily fish should not be consumed more than four times a week may not be needed in the future.

Depleting fish stocks suggest that a supply of omega-3 may not be sustainable in the long term, causing a focus on proven effective preventive measures – including giving up smoking, getting regular exercise and eating healthily.