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Up-To-Date Research Information . . .

Taking cholesterol-lowering “statin” drugs with the Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil can pack a “one-two punch” against heart disease, Japanese researchers report. The study was presented at the annual meeting for the American Heart Association. The key fatty acid is called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). It`s one of the disease-fighting omega-3 fatty acids present in salmon, tuna, herring and high- potency fish oil concentrate supplements.

In a study of more than 18,000 men and women, those who took high doses of fish oil EPA plus a cholesterol-lowering statin drug (either Zocor or Pravachol) were 19 percent less likely to suffer a variety of heart ailments, compared with those who took statins alone. After 4.5 years, 2.8 percent of people taking the statin-EPA combination had adverse events vs. 3.5 percent in the statin-only group. The adverse events included sudden cardiac death, heart attacks, unstable angina, and the need to undergo procedures to reopen clogged arteries.

Further analysis showed that people with existing heart disease benefited most from the fish oil and statin drug combination approach. “Omega-3 fatty acids have powerful benefits in preventing adverse outcomes compared with statins alone,” says researcher Mitsuhiro Yokoyama, MD, chief of cardiovascular and respiratory medicine at Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine.

Beyond Cholesterol-Lowering Benefits Yokoyama indicates that the omega-3 fatty acids seem to have a variety of heart-healthy benefits, including anticlotting effects and triglyceride-lowering effects, that go beyond cholesterol lowering. “Both EPA-Omega 3 combination and statin-only therapy reduced LDL “bad” cholesterol by the same amount — 26 percent — yet lowered cardiovascular risk significantly more than statin drug therapy alone,” he says.

Lawrence Appel, MD, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and an American Heart Association spokesman, says, “The study reinforces the benefits of fish oil in a high-risk population with prior cardiovascular disease.” The big unresolved issue, Appel concludes, is whether omega-3 fatty acids will prevent heart attacks and stroke in healthy people that do not eat a lot of fish. The Japanese diet is about 40 percent fish, while the majority of Americans don`t even eat fish three times a week.

Sources: American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2005, Dallas, Nov. 13-16, 2005. Mitsuhiro Yokoyama, MD, chief, cardiovascular and sociopath medicine, Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine, Kobe, Japan. Lawrence Appel, MD, professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.