Fish oil is known to lower triglycerides, but can it prevent a heart attack? Doctors from Baylor College of Medicine involved in a multi-institutional study are testing a highly purified form of fish oil to see if it can reduce the risk of heart attack for those who are also on a statin, a cholesterol-reducing drug.

Triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids, or fat, found in the blood stream. The body needs these lipids to function properly, but too much can raise the risk of heart disease.

Preventing a second heart attack

"People who are at risk for heart disease are usually prescribed statins. They are effective in helping to lower cholesterol levels, but some people still may have high triglycerides," said Dr. Christie Ballantyne, professor of medicine and section chief of cardiology and cardiovascular research in the Department of Medicine at BCM. "If those individuals have a heart attack and their triglycerides are still elevated, they are at an increased risk of having another one. This study is looking at what else we can do in addition to statins to prevent another heart attack."

Over-the-counter fish oil capsules are usually 300 milligrams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) each; the dosage needed to reduce triglycerides is over 3,000 milligrams of EPA and DHA, or greater than 10 capsules. Researchers are using a highly purified form of fish oil made only of EPA.

New therapy?

"We have shown that this purified form does reduce triglycerides, and has also shown promising results targeting other risk factors such as inflammation," said Ballantyne, who is also the director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at the Methodist DeBakey Heart Center and co-director of Lipid Metabolism and Atherosclerosis Clinic at The Methodist Hospital. "This study could potentially offer a new therapy to prevent heart attacks."

To learn more about the study and the qualifications needed to join, please call the recruitment line at (713) 798-3171.