Fish oil supplements lower the risk of heart disease—but only for patients with the right genetic makeup

Does taking fish oil supplements really lower a person’s risk of heart disease? Yes, according to a new analysis in PLOS Genetics—but that isn’t necessarily true for everyone.  

Researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA), Tulane University and Cornell University explored the topic at length.

“We've known for a few decades that a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood is associated with a lower risk of heart disease,” lead author Kaixiong Ye, PhD, an assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at UGA, said in a prepared statement. “What we found is that fish oil supplementation is not good for everyone; it depends on your genotype.”

Ye et al. examined data from 70,000 patients who participated in the UK Biobank study. While approximately 11,000 participants were taking fish oil supplements, the remaining individuals were not.

The authors went on to run more than 64 million tests, finding that the GJB2 gene appeared to be a key piece of the equation. Participants with the AG genotype who took fish oil supplements achieved a decrease in their triglycerides—but not participants with the AA genotype who took fish oil supplements. In fact, the AA genotype was actually associated with a slight increase in triglycerides.   

Looking ahead, the researchers hope to learn more about how fish oil impacts patients with cardiovascular disease—when the patients has the correct genetic makeup, at least.

“Personalizing and optimizing fish oil supplementation recommendations based on a person’s unique genetic composition can improve our understanding of nutrition and lead to significant improvements in human health and well-being,” Ye said.

The full analysis can be read here.