Statins and omega-3s may offer comparable life-saving outcomes, via different mechanisms
by Craig Weatherby
In the last issue of Vital Choices, we looked at the roles of omega-3s and statins in preventing heart attacks and other adverse cardiovascular events.
Now, the results of a new analysis of existing studies indicates that the ability of dietary omega-3s to prevent deaths may approach the life-saving powers of statins.
As the Swiss researchers said, “Mortality data are the most reliable data to assess efficacy of interventions [i.e., drugs, diet, lifestyle changes]. We aimed to assess efficacy and safety of different lipid-lowering interventions based on mortality data” (By “lipids” they mean blood fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides).
The researchers examined 97 clinical trials, and came to this conclusion: “Statins and n-3 fatty acids [omega-3s] are the most favorable lipid-lowering interventions with reduced risks of overall and cardiac mortality.”
Statins still hold a clear edge with regard to preventing first heart attacks—which omega-3s are not shown to do—but omega-3s were not far behind in reducing the risk of death from all causes.
What explains omega-3s' strong showing?
The surprisingly strong showing for omega-3s came even though they lower total cholesterol level by just two percent, compared with the average 20 percent reduction seen with statins.
However, if consumed in sufficient amounts, omega-3s raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and reduce levels of both inflammation and triglycerides: two significant risk factors. (Statins also reduce inflammation.) Omega-3s also reduce the risk of the irregular heart beats (arrhythmias), reduce blood clotting, and, as we reported in the last issue of Vital Choices, they appear to improve the health of coronary arteries.
We also know that omega-3s improve some key factors related to diabetes, and are generally strong anti-aging nutrients, in that inflammation is a driving force underlying many degenerative processes.
None of this means that people with, or at risk of, cardiovascular disease should substitute omega-3s for statins. Instead, it means that omega-3s and foods containing them present an unsurpassed option for preventive cardiac nutrition.
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- Nordoy A. Statins and omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of dyslipidemia and coronary heart disease. Minerva Med. 2002 Oct;93(5):357-63. Review.
- Bucher HC, Hengstler P, Schindler C, Meier G. N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Med. 2002;112:298-304.