Link between omega-3s and atrial fibrillation?

In recent years, various studies have already come to the conclusion that omega-3 fatty acids may not protect against atrial fibrillation, but could even promote it. Current research should now shed light on whether omega-3 food supplements in the form of fish oil protect against atrial fibrillation or possibly even increase the risk.

Many people consume omega-3 fish oil supplements in hopes of health benefits. A recent meta-analysis with the participation of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined how the intake of omega-3 fatty acids affects the development of atrial fibrillation. The results of the study can be read in the English-language journal “Circulation”.

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia. With atrial fibrillation, the heart contracts irregularly and sometimes too quickly. It is estimated that atrial fibrillation affects 33 million people worldwide. The condition can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications, the team reports.

Recent research suggests that neither vitamin D nor the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil prevent the development of atrial fibrillation. However, other clinical studies indicated an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation in people treated with omega-3 fatty acids, which caused confusion among experts.

Dose determines risk of atrial fibrillation

In order to further explore the possible reasons for the differences between the results of these studies, a meta-analysis has now been carried out in which the results of several scientific studies have been summarized. This analytical comparison between studies suggests that the risk of developing atrial fibrillation depends on the dose of omega-3 fatty acids, the team said.

The data from 81,210 people who had participated in seven clinical studies were evaluated for the analysis. The average age was 65 and 39 percent of the participants were women.

Of these people, 72.6 percent took part in clinical trials that examined less than one gram or a maximum of one gram of omega-3 fatty acids per day. The remaining 27.4 percent were enrolled in clinical trials in which more than one gram of the dietary supplement was used per day, the researchers report.

Real fish better than fish oil supplements?

“Our goal was to provide the broad medical community and patients with clarity, answers and actionable information,” says study author Professor Dr. Christine M. Albert in a press release.

According to the expert, however, the results suggest that there may not be a clear answer to the question of whether fish oil is good or bad for atrial fibrillation. The answer depends on the dose, adds the doctor.

49 percent increased risk from too much omega-3 fatty acids

According to the experts, it was found that people who consumed more than one gram of omega-3 fatty acids per day had a 49 percent increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation, compared with just 12 percent of those who did Consumed one gram or less of the supplement per day.

Based on this new information, the team advises that before taking high-dose omega-3 fatty acid supplements, a doctor should first clarify the potential risk of developing atrial fibrillation. In addition, people should be informed about the possible signs and symptoms of the disease so that an early diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment instituted, say the researchers.

In future research, people should be systematically monitored for atrial fibrillation and related undesirable consequences in order to better determine the risk-benefit ratio, demands Professor Dr. Albert.

High intake of fish oil only on medical advice

“For patients, the risk of developing atrial fibrillation seems to be relatively small if they take one gram or less of fish oil per day. However, you should only take more than one gram of fish oil per day on the advice of your doctor, ”says the doctor.

What does the risk of atrial fibrillation depend on?

In the current study, it was not possible to determine whether there are people who generally have a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation when taking fish oil, the team reports. The risk of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age and affects men more often than women. In addition to age and gender, additional risk factors also include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart valve defects, obesity and diabetes, explain the researchers.

Infection and surgery increase risk

Atrial fibrillation is more likely to develop during an infection or immediately after surgery. Stress, caffeine, and alcohol can also trigger seizures, and people who repeatedly do heavy endurance exercise such as marathons could develop atrial fibrillation. How exactly fish oil increases the risk of atrial fibrillation in people with such other risk factors is still unclear. (as)

Author and source information

This text complies with the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.


  • Baris Gencer, Luc Djousse, Omar T. Al-Ramady, Nancy R. Cook, JoAnn E. Manson, Christine M. Albert: Effect of Long-Term Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acids Supplementation on the Risk of Atrial Fibrillation in Randomized Controlled Trials of Cardiovascular Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis; in: Circulation (veröffentlicht 06.10.2021), Circulation
  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: Omega-3 Supplements Could Elevate Risk of Atrial Fibrillation (veröffentlicht 06.10.2021), Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Important NOTE:
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.


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