A common supplement taken by millions of pensioners could increase the risk of heart disease and strokes for many people, a major new study has found.  

Fish oil has long been believed to have many health benefits and it has been shown to help relieve debilitating symptoms of arthritis. However, a study published in the British Medical Journey has sent alarm bells ringing. 

While it acknowledges that fish oil might slow the progression of existing cardiovascular health problems and lower the risk of death, it also warns that the supplement may actually increase the risk of heart disease and strokes in the general population. 


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The longitudinal cohort study involved the  UK Biobank – a biomedical database featuring more than half a million UK residents aged between 40 and 69 years.  It tracked the health of more than 415,000 people for about 12 years.

The study found that: “Regular use of fish oil supplements might be a risk factor for atrial fibrillation and stroke among the general population but could be beneficial for progression of cardiovascular disease from atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events, and from atrial fibrillation to death.”

“Further studies are needed to determine the precise mechanisms for the development and prognosis of cardiovascular disease events with regular use of fish oil supplements,” concluded the study. 

The study linked fish oil supplements to a 13% higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation — an irregular heartbeat — and a 5% elevated risk of having a stroke for those who had no history of cardiovascular disease.  

However,  for those with a pre-existing history of cardiovascular disease, fish oil supplementation was associated with a 15% lower risk of their atrial fibrillation progressing to a heart attack – and a 9% lower risk of dying after heart failure.

Cardiovascular disease –  which can cause heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes – is the leading cause of death worldwide.   The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that people with or at high risk of cardiovascular disease consume at least one portion of oily fish a week.   

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