Fish oils could save the lives of 10,000 heart failure sufferers every year, research has shown, and be prescribed as part of their daily treatment.
A study found that people with heart failure, where the organ fails to beat with sufficient force, were less likely to die if they took fish oils. Around 700,000 people in Britain suffer from the condition that has debilitating symptoms, including breathlessness and fatigue, that can be so severe patients may remain virtually housebound. Around a third die within a year of being diagnosed.
Prof Martin Cowie, of Imperial College London and the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, reviewed the study of almost 7,000 people with chronic heart failure and randomly assigned them to take 1 gram of fish oil capsules per day on top of their usual medication or a dummy pill. There was a nine per cent reduction in deaths among those taking the fish oil after two years. There was also a cut in hospital admissions for the condition.
The results are now expected to be incorporated in Europe-wide guidelines for the treatment of heart failure. Prof Cowie said if two thirds of heart failure patients took the capsules daily, it would mean around 10,000 lives a year would be saved. Patients who have had a heart attack are already recommended to take 1g of fish oil per day and adding in all heart failure patients will mean the majority of people living with heart conditions will be taking the supplements.
The review, published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, said cost-effectiveness studies were under way and are likely to show that prescribing fish oil in these patients would pass evaluation by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. The fish oil used in the study was a high quality supplement containing 90 per cent omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid ethyl esters, called Omacor, rather than a standard over-the-counter product.
Omacor costs the NHS 51p per patient per day and it can also be obtained from a pharmacist without prescription. The research paper said: “Although not yet licensed for use in patients with chronic heart failure, it is likely that updates on international guidelines will make a recommendation to at least consider increasing omega-3 PUFA ethyl esters consumption in the form of oily fish or capsules, 1g per day, in patients with chronic heart failure already optimally medically treated.”
It is thought the fish oils helps regulate heart rate and have an anti-inflammatory action which may help to relax blood vessels to ease the workload on the heart. Dr Jeremy Pearson, deputy medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Researchers have been trying to find something that fish oils really do so this is interesting. If people feel they can tolerate it, which most people do if they take capsules and not liquid, I don't think there is any suggestion that they might be doing themselves any harm.”