Talking Nutrition Editors
Recently, a team of researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health presented key findings on the essentiality of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Nicknamed the VITAL study (VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL), the research was presented at the American Heart Association (AHA) scientific meeting on November 10, 2018 and was subsequently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings tracked 25,871 participants over 5.3 years and is one of the largest studies of its kind to-date. While the primary findings revealed no statistically significant impact of vitamin D on the incidence rate of invasive cancer or major cardiovascular events, the secondary findings related to omega-3 were quite a bit more interesting.i One gram a day of omega-3 supplementation (460 EPA + 380 DHA = 840mg) was found to reduce total and fatal heart attack risk by 28 percent and 50 percent respectively. This is roughly one out of four and one out of two people, that would have a reduced incidence of dying from a heart attack. For total coronary heart disease, omega-3 supplementation produced a 17 percent risk reduction. Yet, perhaps the most dramatic reductions were demonstrated in those with low dietary fish intake and in African Americans. For the African-American population, daily omega-3 fatty acid supplementation produced a significant 77 percent reduction in heart attack risk. In people who did not eat the recommended one or two servings of fish a week, the omega-3 supplements were linked to a 40 percent reduction in heart attacks, but for people who followed the recommendation, there was no such association. According to Keri Marshall, M.S., N.D., director of Global Lipid Science and Advocacy at DSM and a physician in Columbia, Maryland, “the secondary outcomes of the VITAL study are very compelling and should not be overlooked despite being secondary findings. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death around the world and the public health implications here are immense. By taking a relatively low daily dose of the omega-3s EPA and DHA supplement, participants who did not meet the dietary recommendations, were able to achieve a 40 percent reduction in heart attack risk. The benefits by far outweigh any risks and while further research is always useful, these findings and the potential cost savings are too significant to ignore.”
While the VITAL study is by far the most comprehensive in terms of participants, the findings are a part of a larger body of research that continues to build, substantiating the use of omega-3 supplementation for CVD risk reduction. The National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)ii and the European Commission (EC), through their 2012 Article 13.1 health claim, and The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) all support the benefits of omega-3s for heart health.iii In fact the ODS website for Omega 3 education shares the Institute of Medicines statement that evidence that higher Omega 3 levels are associated with a reduced risk of several chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease, suggests that many Americans could benefit from slightly higher intakes.
While the research is substantial, many people around the world still do not meet the minimum daily dietary requirements for omega-3s.iv According to Dr. Marshall, “the U.S. Dietary Guidelines currently recommend eating two servings per week of seafood but we know from research that most people are not getting close to that amount for a number of reasons. In fact, approximately 95 percent of Americans are not meeting their cardio protective levels for omega-3s.” This happens for many reasons.
While a food first approach is always best, sometimes eating seafood is not an option due to cost, availability, health preferences, allergies or environmental welfare concerns. In these cases, adequate supplementation of omega-3s must be used to meet daily needs.
To learn more about optimal omega-3 intake and status, download our whitepaper.
JoAnn E Manson talks about the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL) and principal results for vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in the primary prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer.