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Omega-3 fatty acids appear to protect damaged heart after heart attack

Study suggests this therapy may provide added benefits to standard care

Taking omega-3 fatty acids appeared to lower inflammation and guard against further declines in heart function among recent survivors already receiving optimal standard care, according to results from a randomized, controlled trial to be presented at the ’s 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.

Patients in the study taking 4 grams of prescription-only omega-3 fatty acid capsules daily for six months after a heart attack were significantly more likely to show improvements in heart function compared to patients taking a placebo. Heart function was measured by an expansion of the left ventricular endsystolic volume index. Patients taking omega-3 fatty acids also had significantly less evidence of fibrosis — a thickening or scarring of the areas of the heart remote from the heart attack, which can develop when the surviving heart muscle works harder and under high pressure to compensate for the damage to the heart. The data suggests that patients who were able to mount a substantial change in levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood derived the most benefit.

“Giving a high dose of omega-3 fatty acids soon after a heart attack appears to improve cardiac structure and heart functioning above and beyond the standard of care,” said Raymond W. Kwong, M.D., M.P.H, director of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the study’s senior author. “Because this is a unique group of patients with remarkably high adherence to [guideline-directed] treatments for acute myocardial infarction already, we feel fairly confident that the benefits from this therapy are additive. The implications of this study could be fairly large.”

An estimated 720,000 Americans have heart attacks each year. After a heart attack, the heart can remodel or reorganize itself to maintain or improve function. In some cases, the heart may undergo adverse changes such as enlargement of the heart, decreased pumping ability or added cardiac strain that can predispose someone to heart failure and arrhythmias later in life.

Although earlier studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may lower the risk of irregular heartbeats and death from a heart attack, research has not consistently shown a benefit. Kwong said his research is the first to use quantitative cardiac imaging to look at how omega-3 fatty acids might actually protect the heart after a major heart attack.