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The University of Southampton

Fish Oil saves lives, says new Southampton research

Published: 7 February 2003

Research published by University of Southampton researchers in The Lancet (8 February) reinforces the positive heart health benefits of taking fish oil capsules regularly and sheds welcome light on how fish oil protects against death by heart attack or stroke.

Findings from a double blind, placebo controlled, randomised trial conducted at the University of Southampton show that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can save lives by stabilising the fatty deposits, or plaques, that build up on artery walls (also known as furred arteries). Researchers were able to show that the plaques from the patients taking fish oil capsules contained fewer inflammatory cells and had a thicker cap than those found in the other two groups, who took sunflower oil or a placebo. Inflammation and a thin cap indicate that the plaques are likely to rupture, with potentially fatal results.

Although the body of evidence for the heart-protective benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and fish oil supplements like cod liver oil is already so compelling that the medical profession and government recommend increasing consumption, how they work has not till now been fully understood.

These new data show a new heart health benefit to taking fish oil, in addition to those benefits already known - i.e. recognised action in regulating irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and improving blood flow to reduce the risk of a potentially fatal blood clot in the artery.

Says Professor Philip Calder, co-leader of the Southampton research team that conducted the trial: "These results show us why fish oils capsules can prevent heart attack and stroke. In particular, our results will give hope to hundreds of thousands of people with coronary atherosclerosis. Increasing their intake of omega-3 fatty acids by simply by eating more oily fish or taking fish oil capsules can reduce their risk of heart-related death."

Related Staff Member

Notes for editors

  1. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrates its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £215 million.
  2. The UK has one of the highest rates of death from heart disease in the world - one British adult dies from the disease every three minutes. There are over 270,000 heart attacks in the UK each year. More than half the people who have a heart attack currently die before they even reach a hospital.
  3. Stroke is the greatest single cause of severe disability in the country and is the UK's third biggest killer, claiming over 70,000 lives each year.
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