A prescription pill that contains large doses of an omega 3 fatty acid found in fish oil staved off heart attacks and strokes in folks with a history of heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
In the large clinical trial, the results were particularly potent for people with high triglycerides, a blood fat long linked to an increased risk of heart disease, the New York Times reported Monday.
The researchers focused on people whose cholesterol levels were controlled with statins, but whose triglyceride levels were still high. Because many smaller studies had not produced much evidence of any benefit in adding fish oil supplements to statin use, the hopes of heart experts were not high.
But the new trial, to be presented in November at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, showed that these patients saw a 25 percent drop in their relative risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiac events compared to a control group of patients who received a placebo.
In the trial, more than 8,000 patients were followed for about five years, during which the drug was well tolerated and safe, the researchers noted.
Dr. Ethan Weiss, a cardiologist and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Times that the findings carried a few caveats. All of the data remains to be seen, and the group of patients most likely to see a benefit is very specific, added Weiss, who was not involved in the study.
Vascepa is now only approved for certain patients who have very high triglyceride levels, the newspaper said.
“The worried well shouldn’t run out and take fish oil,” said Dr. Michael Shapiro, a site investigator for the trial and director of Oregon Health and Science University’s Atherosclerosis Imaging Program.
But, “the amount of people around the world who have atherosclerotic disease or diabetes who take a statin and still have elevated triglycerides is enormous,” he said. “This has huge implications.”
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