Extensive studies give mixed news on fish oil, vitamin D

Reuters

"We have a very good, very big study that says neither vitamin D, nor fish oil, reduce the risk of cancer or heart disease", said Steven Nissen, M.D., chairman of Cleveland Clinic's Heart and Vascular Institute, who did not take part in the research.

"These "positive" results need to be interpreted with caution", Dr. Clifford Rosen of Maine Medical Center Research Institute and Dr. John Keaney Jr. of the University of MA wrote in a commentary in the medical journal. Analysis of the NNT data (how many pts are "needed to treat") showed that only 21 people would need to take the medicine for five years to see one of these benefits, which is favorable when compared with other NNT statistics for many medical interventions The monthly average cost of $280 for this medication is a concern for many who may not have insurance, however.

Doctors have been keenly interested in learning the supplements' true value, given their tremendous popularity with patients.

Heart benefits from omega-3 fatty acids were found both in healthy people and in people with conditions that put them at increased risk of heart attack, stroke or heart disease, the two studies found.

Results were revealed Saturday at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Some studies have found that people with lower levels of D are more likely to develop cancer, but it's not known if supplements alter that risk. Even more take vitamin D, despite no major studies to support the many health claims made for it. Same for vitamin D.

A recent Kaiser Health News story reported that vitamin D testing has become a huge business for commercial labs - and an enormous expense for taxpayers.

Manson's study also tested vitamin D, which the skin makes from sun exposure.

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"It will never be as simple as a single cholesterol number", because that doesn't give a clear picture of risk, said one guideline panel member, Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones of Northwestern University. He had no role in the studies or ties to the companies involved.

Fish oils, also called omega-3 fatty acids, are found in salmon, tuna and certain other fish. "If people aren't going to eat fish, there really may be some benefits from taking a fish oil supplement".

That worked out to a 25 percent reduction in risk.

The heart attack rate in fish oil recipients was 28 per cent lower than among those who got the dummy pill, or placebo, and it was 77 per cent lower among African American participants - although the lead author of the study told Reuters Health that this dramatic drop in risk among black participants needs to be confirmed.

Experts agree that vitamin D is important for bone health. An industry that has largely been propped by a few studies that claim popping Vitamin D will keep your cancer risk at bay and Omega 3 pills will keep you safe from heart disease, among other ills.

"People considering the use of omega-3 fatty acids to prevent heart disease must weigh the overall balance of benefits and risks", said Dr. JoAnn Manson a director of the study and head of the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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