Heart experts urged consumers on Friday to continue eating oily fish and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids despite research showing they may have no clear health benefits.
A review of 89 studies published online by the British Medical Journal showed no strong evidence that omega-3 fats reduced deaths from cardiovascular disease.
But Dr Mike Knapton, of the British Heart Foundation, said more research is needed before people change their eating habits.
“People should not stop consuming omega-3 fats or eating oily fish as a result of this study,” he said in a statement issued by the foundation.
“Until now, medical research has demonstrated a benefit from omega-3 fats in protecting people from heart and circulatory disease. This systematic review of numerous studies concludes that there is no clear evidence either way,” he added.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids that work together to promote good health. The body cannot make them, so eating a diet rich in the substances is important.
Fish and certain oils such as canola and flaxseed are sources of omega-3 while raw nuts and seeds contain omega-6.
Exercise, don't smoke
Lee Hooper, of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England who headed the review team, said they found wide variations between the studies they looked at. But there was no evidence of a clear benefit of omega-3 fats on health.
Earlier studies had suggested that omega-3 fatty acids could play a role in helping to prevent health problems such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and some types of cancer.
Knapton said current recommendations to consume no more than 4 portions of oily fish a week are sensible.
“Whatever amount of oily fish you consume, the impact on your risk of heart disease is negligible compared to the benefits of quitting smoking, doing regular exercise and eating a diet low in saturated fats,” Knapton added.