Does Fish Oil Prevent Atrial Fibrillation (Afib)?

Woman holding up fish oil pill in one arm while smiling

Fish oil is a darling of biohackers and health influencers all over the world. However, unlike some new-fangled fads, you’ve probably known about fish oil since childhood. Of course, back then, we called it cod liver oil, a decidedly less sexy name for a potentially very beneficial compound. Fish oil comes in many forms and is usually taken orally via a gel pill. There are liver oils, krill oils, and deep-sea fatty fish oils of all shapes and potencies available today. Ultimately, each advertises a combination of super-healthy omega fatty acids – the compounds that make fish so delicious and nutritious.

But Do They Prevent Afib?

The short answer is that, some studies, very interestingly, have shown that fish oil supplementation may increase the risk of developing Afib.1

In a wider cardiovascular health discussion, the answer is more nuanced. Studies have shown the significant benefits of fish oils and fatty acids. The cardioprotective nature of these compounds is well-researched and can be helpful when purchased from a reputable manufacturer and used as indicated. Indeed, fish oil is often indicted to reduce triglycerides and is often prescribed in doses up top 4g per day.

With that said, many patients with high Omega-3 consumption from food are eating a healthy pescatarian / Mediterranean diet. This diet can positively influence the development and severity of Afib.

Frankly, the research is by no means settled, and there’s plenty more to study including if there’s a difference between supplementation and natural sources.

What About Plant-Based Omega-3?

Plant-based omega-3s (Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)) have become more popular recently and have similar benefits. However, it has been shown that most plant-based supplements are not as potent as their fish-based counterparts. Algae-based omega-3 supplements seem to have similar potency.

Should I take Omega-3s?

With the hundreds, if not thousands, of fish oil and omega-3 products on the market, it may be tough to know which one is best because the FDA does not regulate supplements; it’s challenging to know that what you’re getting is pure and effective. As such, do your due diligence, and if you are going to start a fish oil regimen, speak to your medical team and choose a supplement with a good reputation and, ideally, one that regularly tests their products for purity. Also, remember that oils do go rancid and are less effective over time. Be sure to understand the expiration date of any product that you buy.

If you begin to experience the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, speak to your medical team to understand if fish oil supplements may be a trigger. However, we always suggest getting your Omega-3s from natural sources like:

  • Deep sea fish (salmon, mackerel, herring)
  • Oysters
  • Seeds and nuts (Walnuts, flaxseed, chia seed)
  • Eggs
  • And more

These are exceptionally healthy foods that are beneficial to the heart regardless of their imega-3 content.

Clarifying a Myth:

Unfortunately, there are also several myths surrounding certain foods with Omega-3s. Egg yolks and shellfish, for example, have been vilified in the past because of their high dietary cholesterol content. However, understand that dietary cholesterol does not translate into serum (blood) cholesterol – the kind we don’t want; as such, not only do we not want you to avoid foods like shellfish and eggs, but we believe that they may cardioprotective in moderation and should be consumed if they are to your liking and you have no allergies.

As always, we encourage you to ask any questions about your diet at your next appointment. Dr. Tordini can work with your primary care physician and cardiologist to best understand your dietary needs for improved heart health.

1Omega-3 supplementation linked with atrial fibrillation risk: a meta-analysis. Cardiovasc J Afr. 2021 May-Jun;32(3):167. PMCID: PMC8756005.

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