Omega-3 fatty acids could help heart attack survivors

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have a range of health benefits for the heart and brain. Now a new study finds that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may help heart attack patients recover by improving heart function and reducing scarring in the heart muscle.

The study involved 360 patients who received either 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo daily for six months after their heart attack. Researchers used MRI scans to evaluate their hearts before and after.

They found that participants who took omega-3 fatty acids showed a 6 percent improvement in heart function and a 5.6 percent reduction of scarring in the heart muscle.

The research is published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.

"Heart failure is still a major problem after a heart attack despite all the therapy we have," Dr. Raymond Y. Kwong, the senior author of the study and director of cardiac MRI at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a statement. "Our findings show that omega-3 fatty acids are a safe and effective treatment in improving cardiac remodeling, so it may be promising in reducing the incidence of heart failure or death, which are still major healthcare burdens to patients who suffer a heart attack."

The heart's shape and function can change after a heart attack, which can have a negative impact on the patient's health and lead to heart failure. Researchers say supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids shows promise, but caution against heart attack survivors starting to take them on their own.

"The medication we used was an FDA approved purified form of fish oil," Kwong, who is also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, told CBS News. "Whether that has the same components as what one can buy as a dietary supplement remains to be further studied."