The study findings, published online Aug. 31 in the medical journal The Lancet and presented at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Germany, reinforce “the idea that treating patients with heart failure takes more than just drugs,” Jose Gonzalez Juanatey, MD, a spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology (who was not involved in the research), told the Associated Press.
In the study, Italian researchers gave nearly 3,500 patients diagnosed with heart failure a daily prescription fish oil pill produced by Pronova BioPharma in Norway. Another group of approximately 3,500 patients received a placebo pill. Both groups were followed for four years. In the placebo group, 2,053 died of or were hospitalized for heart failure, while 1,981 people died of or were hospitalized for heart failure in the fish oil group. In parallel research, the Italian doctors gave 2,285 heart failure patients rosuvastatin (a prescription cholesterol drug sold under the brand Crestor) and 2,289 people placebo pills. These patients were also tracked for four years, and the researchers found little difference in heart failure rates between the two groups. Comparing the results of the studies—which were funded by an Italian group of pharmaceuticals including Pfizer Inc., Sigma Tau SpA and AstraZeneca PLC—the researchers concluded that fish oil is slightly more effective than Crestor.
“It’s a small benefit, but we should always be emphasizing to patients what they can do in terms of diet that might help,” Dr. Richard Bonow, chief of cardiology at Northwestern University Hospital in Chicago and past president of the American Heart Association, told the AP.