April 4, 2007 — A Japanese study has shown that people who take statins and also consume omega-3 fatty acids, typically found in fish and fish oil, have a better chance of avoiding heart problems than patients who take statins alone. The “Japan EPA Lipids Intervention Study” was published in the March 31 issue of The Lancet.
"Our study shows that long-term use of EPA (an omega-3 fatty acid) at therapeutic doses is effective for prevention of major coronary events in hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) patients given statins in Japan who consume a large amount of fish," said lead researcher Dr. Mitsuhiro Yokoyama. He is a professor of medicine at the Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine.
Dr. Yokoyama and his colleagues assigned 18,645 people to receive either 1,800 milligrams of one of the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), every day plus a statin, or a statin alone.
During an average follow-up of 4.6 years, the researchers found a 19 percent reduction in major coronary events among patients taking EPA. Patients taking EPA also had 19 percent fewer non-fatal events -- including non-fatal heart attack, unstable angina, and coronary revascularization -- than people taking statins alone. However, the incidence of sudden cardiac death and death from heart disease did not differ between the groups.
The preventive effects of EPA are of both clinical interest and therapeutic importance, according to Dr. Yokoyama.
"EPA is thought to exert its plaque-stabilization effect via mechanisms that are independent of a reduction in cholesterol," he added.
The American Heart Association has latest recommendations on omega-3 fatty acids at www.americanheart.org.