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Oct 03, 2014

Fish Oil, Alone, Fails to Treat Atrial Fibrillation

Despite its heart-healthy qualities, a daily fish oil supplement isn’t enough to treat abnormal heart rhythm.

Despite the heart-healthy qualities of fish oil, daily supplements aren’t enough to treat atrial fibrillation—an abnormal heart rhythm affecting more than 2 million Americans.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a recent study tested whether fish oil, alone, could promote a regular heart rhythm in patients with AFib. For many AFib patients, taking daily fish oil supplements would be a welcome alternative to standard treatment, which may include medication and/or medical procedures. Not only has fish oil been shown to reduce risk for AFib, it’s inexpensive and has minimal side effects, unlike most prescription medication. The question is, does it work to prevent AFib episodes in patients with an irregular heartbeat?

Unfortunately, findings are not promising. Conducted in multiple Canadian medical sites, the AFFORD study included 337 patients recently diagnosed with AFib. Half of patients were randomly assigned to take a daily high-dose of fish oil, while the other half took an inactive supplement with no heart-related benefits. Using heart monitors, researchers then tracked subjects’ heart rhythm, making note of any AFib episodes. After monitoring subjects for nearly one year, researchers found that patients taking fish oil had just as many episodes of irregular heartbeat as those taking the inactive pill. Investigators also noted that the fish oil did not seem to reduce inflammation, which may explain its lack of efficacy.

Based on their findings, authors conclude that high-dose fish oil, alone, does not prevent irregular heartbeat in AFib patients. Of course, that’s not to say that fish oil doesn’t have other heart-healthy benefits, like reducing risk of heart attack and stroke and even preventing the development of AFib. However, this study suggests it’s unlikely that fish oil helps treat patients already living with atrial fibrillation.
Read the full study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.
  • How is atrial fibrillation treated?
  • In general, the goals of atrial fibrillation treatment are to promote a regular heart rhythm or rate and prevent blood clots, which can cause stroke. However, treatment strategies depend on the unique needs of each patient. Treatment options may include antiarrhythmic medication, blood thinners, and a variety of procedures that can help control atrial fibrillation.

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AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.