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Sep 05, 2018

Study Questions Fish Oil and Daily Aspirin in Healthy Diabetic Adults

Recent findings fail to support use of fish oil supplements and low-dose aspirin to prevent heart disease in adults with diabetes.

Fish oil supplements and low-dose aspirin are not recommended for the prevention of heart disease in healthy diabetic adults, based on results of a UK study which found no clear benefit of either treatment in reducing heart events. These findings were recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology Annual Congress in Munich and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Conducted at the University of Oxford, these studies explored two potential therapies for the prevention of heart disease in diabetic adults. The first tested daily low-dose aspirin, which helps thin the blood and has been shown to reduce risk for heart events. The second study tested daily use of fish oil supplements, which contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to have protective effects on the heart.

Both studies included nearly 15,500 people, half of who were randomly assigned to the active treatment while the other half received a placebo with no active ingredients. Participants were 40 years or older, had diabetes and were free of heart disease at the start of the study.

After following participants for an average of 7.4 years, researchers found no significant difference in heart events among adults taking fish oil versus placebo. Overall, roughly 9% of participants in both groups experienced serious heart events like heart attack and stroke. According to authors, findings add to a body of evidence questioning the use of fatty acids to prevent heart events.

When it came to aspirin, however, findings were slightly different. After an average follow-up of 7.4 years, researchers found that adults taking aspirin had 12% lower risk of heart attack, stroke and heart-related death than those taking the placebo. This difference was considered statistically significant and could be lifesaving when it comes to heart events.

The problem was that aspirin also appeared to increase major bleeding events, which is a known side effect of blood thinners like aspirin. Participants taking aspirin had 9% greater risk for serious bleeding than those taking the placebo. According to authors, this risk cancels out the potential benefits.

Based on both studies, authors do not recommend fish oil or low-dose aspirin for heart disease prevention in healthy, diabetic adults. Although fish oil supplements carry little to no risks, aspirin actually could increase risk of serious complications in otherwise healthy individuals. These studies conclude that there’s not enough evidence that either treatment is truly effective or recommended for the prevention of heart disease in patients with diabetes.

The good news, however, is that there are still tried-and-true ways for patients—especially those with diabetes—to prevent heart disease. That means staying active, eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol in check. Studies continue to show that these simple steps can drastically help reduce risk for life-threatening heart events and improve overall health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce my risk for heart attack?
  • You can significantly reduce risk for heart attack by knowing your numbers and addressing any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, including hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking. You can also help reduce cardiovascular risk by maintaining a healthy weight and heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly and controlling stress.

  • How does aspirin help prevent heart attack and stroke?

  • Aspirin helps prevent heart attack and stroke by reducing blood clotting. Although blood clotting is the body’s natural way of healing damaged blood vessels, blood clots can travel to the heart and block major arteries, causing heart attack or stroke. Therefore, those at high risk for heart attack and stroke often take aspirin to help reduce clotting and risk for future cardiac events.

Infographic: Diabetes and Heart Disease Risk

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