Chicago — Fish oil, vitamin D, novel drugs, new cholesterol guidelines: News from an American Heart Association conference over the weekend reveals a lot about what works and what does not for preventing heart attacks and other problems.
Dietary supplements missed the mark, but a prescription-strength fish oil showed promise. A drug not only helped people with diabetes control blood sugar and lose weight, but also lowered their risk of needing hospitalization for heart failure.
Good news for everyone: You no longer have to fast before a blood test to check cholesterol. Don’t stop at the doughnut shop on your way to the clinic, but eating something before the test is OK for most folks, the guidelines say.
They’re from the Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology and are endorsed by many other doctor groups. No authors had financial ties to drugmakers.
Highlights from the conference, which wraps up Monday, include new guidelines for gauging high cholesterol, which leads to hardened arteries that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.
When guidelines were last revised five years ago, they moved away from just using cholesterol numbers to determine who needs treatment and toward a formula that takes into account age, high blood pressure and other factors to more broadly estimate risk.
That was confusing, so the new guidelines blend both approaches, setting targets based on the formula and considering individual circumstances, such as other medical conditions or a family history of early heart disease.
“It will never be as simple as a single cholesterol number,” because that doesn’t give a clear picture of risk, said one guideline panel member, Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones of Northwestern University.
Two major studies gave mixed results on fish oil, or omega-3 fatty acids. There are different types, including EPA and DHA.
In a study of 26,000 healthy people, 1 gram a day of an EPA/DHA combo, a dose and type found in many dietary supplements, showed no clear ability to lower the risk of heart problems or cancer.
But another study testing 4 grams a day of Amarin Corp.’s Vascepa, which is concentrated EPA, found it cut heart problems in people at higher risk for them because of high triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, and other reasons.
One of the studies also tested vitamin D, one of the most popular supplements, and found it did not lower the risk of cancer or heart problems.