Fish-oil derived drug found to reduce risk of heart attack and stroke

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Fish oil
A derivative from fish, icosapent ethyl (brand name: Vascepa®), has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, strokes, and death from heart attack in patients at high risk of a heart attack who are already on a statin. This benefit only occurred in people who had previously had a heart attack or stroke.

Previous fish oil supplements have not shown the same benefit. Reasons for the benefit in this trial cannot be confirmed, and more research is required, but it may be related to the high dose or purity of icosapent ethyl. This is one of several components of standard fish oil supplements and was given in a higher amount than has been used in most previous studies.

Icosapent ethyl is an omega-3 acid derived from fish. It is different from regular fish oil – it is a refined component of fish oil. Icosapent ethyl is not currently registered in Australia (it is not on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods). It is registered in the United States to treat high triglyceride levels.

The study, released yesterday at the annual conference of the American Heart Association, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The results of this study do not provide any new information for:

  • patients not on statins or unable to take statins or ezetimibe (because the study only included patients already on statins or ezetimibe)
  • other fish oil products, fish oil, other omega-3 supplements
  • patients who have not had a heart attack or stroke

Heart Foundation comment:

The Heart Foundation’s current recommendations regarding omega-3 supplements are:

  • we do not advise routine recommendation of omega-3 supplements for heart health by health professionals.
  • we do recommend health professionals consider the use of omega-3 supplements for those with high triglyceride levels and as an additional treatment for heart failure.
  • everyone should include 2-3 serves of fish per week as part of a heart-healthy diet.

Heart Foundation clinical manager, Cia Connell said: “There is no need to change Heart Foundation recommendations at this stage, as this is only a single study showing benefit. Guidelines are based on wide-ranging reviews of multiple sources of evidence. The Heart Foundation’s guidelines for the treatment of patients who have had a heart attack will be considered for review in 2019-2020.

“Australian national guidelines on the treatment of cholesterol and high triglycerides (for patients who have not had a heart attack or stroke) are out of date, and an update is currently being discussed by the relevant health organisations.

“Current recommendations for patients who have had a heart attack include statin therapy, with a review of cholesterol levels after 3 months and adjustment of therapy at this stage. Patients should continue to take their statins and talk to their doctor about a heart healthy diet.”

For further interviews:

Karen Kissane, Director, Media Relations and Corporate Communications, Heart Foundation

M: 0478 483 777 E: karen.kissane@heartfoundation.org.au