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Supplements Fail Again

The British Medical Journal just published results from a study on how B-Vitamins and fish oil affect several cardiovascular diseases. The outcomes were disappointing.

Researchers studied 2501 individuals who were sick to begin with. All had experienced a stroke, heart attack or unstable chest pains. The study involved over 400 research physicians throughout France. 

People were randomly assigned to one of four groups, with various daily treatments:

  • Group one got 560 micrograms of folic acid, 3 mg of vitamin B6 and 20 micrograms of vitamin B-12.  
  • Group two got 600 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, using both eicosapentanoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in a 2:1 ratio.  
  • Group three got both the B-vitamins and the omega-3 fatty acids.  
  • Group four got placebos. 

On average, people took the supplements for 4.7 years.

Researchers measured several ways the treatment impacted the patients:

  • Impact of the vitamins: After one year, the group taking B-vitamins had their homocysteine level fell from 12.9 to 9.8 (micromoles/liter). Their serum folate level rose from 6.7 to 16.9 (ng/ml), and their vitamin B12 levels went from 361 to 506. Obviously, the vitamins were showing up in the blood stream.
  • Impact of the omega-3 oils: After one year, the group taking fish oil had their eicosapentanoic fatty acid level almost double - from 1.15% to 2.08% of circulating lipids in the blood stream. Their other omega-3 fat level rose from 2.53% to 3.07% of lipids in the blood stream. Together the two omega-3 fatty acids rose from 3.68% to 5.13% of circulating lipids. The omega-3 supplements were clearly impacting lipid levels.
  • Impact of placebos: The vitamin B levels and omega-3 fatty acid levels remained unchanged over time before and after taking placebos.

However, even though the treatment showed up clearly in the blood stream, these groups of sick people continued to have strokes, heart attacks and angina spells throughout the 4 years. There was no statistical improvement in health among those who took the B-vitamins.

The only significant finding was that those taking vitamins experienced 72 deaths compared to only 45 deaths among those on placebos. This was statistically significant (p.=0.02).

Those taking omega fatty acids experienced the same number of heart attacks, strokes, and angina episodes as those taking a placebo.  There were 58 deaths in the fish oil group and 59 deaths in the placebo group.

The authors concluded:

“This study does not support the routine use of dietary supplements containing B vitamins or omega 3 fatty acids for prevention of cardiovascular disease in people with a history of ischemic heart disease or ischemic stroke, at least when supplementation is introduced after the acute phase of the initial event.”