SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The popularity of Omega-3 fish oil and Vitamin D supplements has soared over the last decade, as more consumers buy into claims that regular use will lower blood pressure, slow aging, and stave off various cancers and heart disease. A new study looked at some of these claims, and found some long-term health benefits, particularly for African-Americans.
A pair of reports published in the New England Journal of Medicine posit that supplemental doses of either product do not help most people in the prevention of various types of cancers, heart attacks or strokes.
The placebo-controlled Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial, (VITAL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, studied more than 25,000 men and women over five years. Male participants had to be 50 and older; females, 55 and older.
When scientists compared groups who were administered placebo with those who took Omega 3 fish oil, overall, they found no evidence that marine fatty acid supplements lowered the incidence of major cardiovascular events or cancer any better than placebo for most participants. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, tuna and certain other fish.
When researchers considered heart attacks separately from strokes and other cardiovascular disease, the risk was reduced by 28 percent.
However, African-American participants derived the greatest benefit from taking Omega-3 supplements, and showed a 77 percent reduction in heart attacks, regardless of their level of fish consumption. Overall, participants with low fish intake (less than 1 1/2 servings per week) showed a 19 percent reduction in major cardiovascular disease.
As for Vitamin D, long associated with bone health, the findings were similar. After 5 years, most participants who took placebo were no more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, heart disease or stroke than those who took 2000 IU of Vitamin D-3 a day. The recommended daily allowance is 600 to 800 IU per day.
Again, African-Americans participants fared better, and showed a “suggestive” 23 percent reduction in cancer risk. Scientists note that more research is necessary to confirm this finding.
“Additional research is needed to confirm the strong heart protection seen in African Americans and to determine whether there are other groups who might benefit from omega-3 therapy. People considering the use of omega-3 fatty acids to prevent heart disease must weigh the overall balance of benefits and risks,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson a director of the study and head of the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Manson advises people already taking similar doses of these supplements and doing well to continue doing so.
“For omega-3 supplements specifically, you may want to talk with your healthcare provider over the next several months about taking a supplement if you rarely or never eat fish or if you are African American.”
The research is ongoing but early results have drawn national attention. Looking forward, VITAL plans to conduct more studies to assess the risk and benefits of Vitamin D and Omega-3 fish oil in the prevention of other diseases including diabetes, blood pressure, memory loss, and depression.
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CBSSF.com writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer Bay Sunday, Black Renaissance and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.