Cleveland Clinic-Led Trial Shows That High Levels of Prescription Fish Oil Showed No Effect on Cardiac Outcomes

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Results from secondary analysis of STRENGTH Trial presented at this week’s American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual Scientific Session

Steven Nissen, M.D., Chief Academic Officer of the Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute at Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland, Ohio: Evidence from a secondary analysis of American hospital Cleveland Clinic’s STRENGTH trial shows that high levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid, offered no benefit to patients at high risk for cardiovascular events.

Findings from the secondary analysis were presented this week during a Late Breaking Science Session at the American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual Scientific Session and simultaneously published online in JAMA Cardiology.

In the study, patients who achieved the highest levels of EPA had similar rates of major adverse cardiovascular events as patients taking a corn oil placebo. EPA was measured 12 months after patients began taking 4 grams daily of a prescription-grade omega-3 product.

“Our analysis shows no evidence that a high EPA level produces cardiovascular benefit,” said Steven Nissen, M.D., Chief Academic Officer of the Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute at Cleveland Clinic, and the study’s lead author. “Previous studies have found that for those with very high triglycerides, fish oil supplements or icosapent ethyl help in lowering them. However, based on the current evidence there is no reduction in overall cardiovascular risk for patients.”

In the STRENGTH trial, 13,078 patients were randomized to receive daily supplementation with high dose omega-3 fatty acids or placebo (corn oil). The high dose omega-3 fatty acid drug used in the study – not available over the counter – did not result in a significant reduction in major adverse cardiovascular events compared to corn oil. The trial was stopped early since there was no significant difference between groups in the primary outcome.

A prior clinical trial published in 2018 found that use of icosapent ethyl, a highly purified formulation of EPA, significantly reduced cardiovascular events and cardiovascular death among high-risk patients compared to a mineral oil placebo. However, according to STRENGTH’s authors, the study was controversial because mineral oil had unfavorable effects on cholesterol and markers of inflammation, which may have exaggerated the apparent benefit of icosapent ethyl.

The secondary analysis of the STRENGTH trial examined a subset of 10,382 patients with available omega-3 fatty acid levels, with 5,175 receiving omega-3 carboxylic acid and 5,207 receiving the corn oil placebo. Major adverse cardiovascular events occurred in 11.1% of patients treated with fish oil and 11% of patients in the placebo group. Overall, this group of patients was 62.5 years old, on average, one-third were women and another third had diabetes.

The original STRENGTH trial was funded by AstraZeneca. Dr. Nissen has served as a consultant for many pharmaceutical companies and has overseen clinical trials for Amgen, AstraZeneca, Cerenis, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, The Medicines Company, Orexigen, Takeda and Pfizer. However, he does not accept honoraria, consulting fees or other compensation from commercial entities. Dr. Lincoff has received research funding from Amgen, Astra Zeneca, CSL Behring, Esperion, Eli Lilly, and Novartis and has served as a consultant for Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly.

The trial was coordinated by the Cleveland Clinic Coordinating Center for Clinical Research (C5Research). The protocol was developed by members of the independent academic executive steering committee in conjunction with AstraZeneca, the sponsor of the study.

About Cleveland Clinic:

Cleveland Clinic – now in its centennial year – is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 70,800 employees worldwide are more than 4,660 salaried physicians and researchers, and 18,500 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,500-bed health system that includes a 173-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 19 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, and locations in southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2020, there were 8.7 million total outpatient visits, 273,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 217,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries.