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Omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil supplements reduce mortality from all causes
A report published in March 2004 by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality on the subject of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiovascular disease has concluded that consumption of the fatty acids from fish or fish oil supplements reduces all cause mortality as well as cardiovascular disease outcomes. Omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which occur in fish and fish oil, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in plant oils. Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with health benefits in a number of studies.
For the 116-page Evidence Report, Tufts-New England Medical Center investigators analyzed The Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (CSFII) and the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) to determine the omega-3 intake of the US population. In addition, 7,464 abstracts were screened and 39 studies were selected for review of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the general population and in populations with pre-existing cardiovascular disease or cardiovascular risk factors.
The researchers found that only one quarter of the US population consumed any amount of EPA or DHA. Consumption of these two fatty acids was associated with a reduction in all cause mortality as well as cardiovascular events. Research concerning alpha-linolenic acid consumption in the form of supplements was not found to be conclusive.
A review of 142 articles that provided data on the subject found that gastrointestinal side effects were the adverse events most commonly observed among omega-3 supplement users. The frequently expressed concern regarding increased bleeding was not found to be of significance in this review, as bleeding events did not occur any more frequently in those who received omega-3 supplements than in those who did not. No life-threatening or other significant side effects were associated with omega-3 fatty acid consumption. In addition, 77 studies reported that the absence of adverse effects.
Although this report analyzed a significant amount of research, further trials were recommended by the reviewers in order to investigate a number of issues, such as the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on specific populations.