French researcher, Dr. Michel de Lorgeril, has been in the forefront of thinking and research into nutritional issues, including the Mediterranean Diet, the French Paradox, and the role of fat intake in cardiovascular health. In a recent review entitled Recent findings on the health effects of omega-3 fatty acids and statins, and their interactions: do statins inhibit omega-3?, he explores the question of whether statin drugs are, in effect, incompatible with omega-3 fatty acids.
Dr. Lorgeril makes several arguments:
1) Earlier studies, such as GISSI-Prevenzione, demonstrated reduction in cardiovascular events with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, consistent with the biological and physiological benefits observed in animals, experimental preparations, and epidemiologic observations in free-living populations.
2) More recent studies (and meta-analyses) examining the effects of omega-3 fatty acids have failed to demonstrate cardiovascular benefit showing, at most, non-significant trends towards benefit.
He points out that the more recent studies were conducted post-GISSI and after agencies like the American Heart Association’s advised people to consume more fish, which prompted broad increases in omega-3 intake. The populations studied therefore had increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids at the start of the studies, verified by higher levels of omega-3 RBC levels in participants.
In addition, he raises the provocative idea that the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids appear to be confined to those not taking statin agents, as suggested, for instance, in the Alpha Omega Trial. He speculates that the potential for statins to ablate the benefits of omega-3s (and vice versa) might be based on several phenomena:
–Statins increase arachidonic acid content of cell membranes, a potentially inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid that competes with omega-3 fatty acids. (Insulin provocation and greater linoleic acid/omega-6 oils do likewise.)
–Statins induce impaired mitochondrial function, while omega-3s improve mitochondrial function. (Impaired mitochondrial function is evidenced, for instance, by reduced coenzyme Q10 levels, with partial relief from muscle weakness and discomfort by supplementing coenzyme Q10.)
–Statins commonly provoke muscle weakness and discomfort which can, in turn, lead to reduced levels of physical activity and increased resistance to insulin. (Thus the recently reported increases in diabetes with statin drug use.)
Are the physiologic effects of omega-3 fatty acids, present and necessary for health, at odds with the non-physiologic effects of statin drugs?
I fear we don’t have sufficient data to come to firm conclusions yet, but my perception is that the case against statins is building. Yes, they have benefits in specific subsets of people (none in others), but the notion that everybody needs a statin drug is, I believe, not only dead wrong, but may have effects that are distinctly negative. And I believe that the arguments in favor of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, EPA and DHA (and perhaps DPA), make better sense.
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