Fish Oil, Not Drug, Fights Heart Failure

Dr. Cohen

Fascinating new evidence of what your HealthwoRx™ physicians have been telling you about all along just made headlines. See below for a reprint of Headlining News.

Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Fish oil capsules prevent death and hospital stays in patients whose hearts fail to pump correctly, researchers said. In a related study, AstraZeneca Plc's Crestor cholesterol-lowering drug didn't help them.

GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Pronova BioPharma ASA's Lovaza capsules lowered heart failure patients' risk of dying from the condition by 9 percent, and the risk of hospitalization by 8 percent, Italian researchers said at a medical conference in Munich today. In a separate study by the same scientists, patients using Crestor showed no improvement compared with those taking a placebo.

"Heart failure patients are very ill individuals; if you can help them, that's a very good thing,'' said Jaakko Tuomilehto, an epidemiologist at the University of Helsinki.

Heart failure is a lifelong condition in which the organ can't pump enough blood to keep up with the body's needs. While doctors can treat the disorder with a number of medicines, they are looking for additional ways to improve patients' health. Smaller studies had led the scientists to believe fish oil may have a calming effect on irregular heart rhythms. They also wanted to see if Crestor's anti-inflammatory properties could help patients.

The study followed 6,975 patients with chronic heart failure who were either given one gram of fish oil daily or a dummy pill. The doctors followed up on the patients for a mean of 3.9 years. Patients who exactly followed the treatment regime saw their risk of death drop by 14 percent, the researchers said.

Fatty Acids

Fish oil, which contains omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, may make the heart beat more rhythmically, said lead scientist Gianni Tognoni of the ANMCO Research Center in Florence, Italy, in an interview. He called the benefit "moderate,'' and said he had expected a larger decrease in risk in patients taking a daily fish-oil pill. The research is the first to assess the effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids in heart failure patients.

"This is an important study,'' Robert Bonow, a cardiologist at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, said in an interview. "Even though these patients were on the right medication, the addition of polyunsaturated fatty acids led to a reduction in adverse outcomes.''

The results may boost sales of GlaxoSmithKline and Lysaker, Norway-based Pronova BioPharma's Lovaza. London-based Glaxo has the U.S. rights to the treatment. Citigroup analysts including Kevin Wilson estimated in an Aug. 20 note that Lovaza will have 2010 U.S. sales of 487 million pounds ($887 million).

Eating Fish

While eating fish has been shown in studies to help those with cardiovascular disease, it isn't yet clear whether dietary choices would have an effect on heart failure, Tognoni said. A daily dose of one gram would be difficult to achieve by diet alone, Tuomilehto said.

In a separate study, the same group of researchers gave 4,574 patients either placebo or AstraZeneca's Crestor, which belongs to a class of cholesterol-lowering medicines known as statins. High levels of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The patients did equally well on both pills in the study.

"There is no indication for using statins on top of other treatments for heart failure patients,'' Tognoni said. The medicine brought in $2.8 billion last year for London-based AstraZeneca.

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