More Recent Headlines from the Late-breaking Clinical Trial Presentations at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2

More Recent Headlines from the Late-breaking Clinical Trial Presentations at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions -

Less Pessimism Called for When Interpreting the Results from VITAL Regarding Cardiovascular Benefits with Omega-3

 

By Kevin C Maki, PhD and Mary R Dicklin, PhD

 The primary results from the Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL) were recently presented at the late-breaking clinical trial sessions of the American Heart Association (AHA) meeting in Chicago, IL and simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine.1  VITAL was a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of a 1 g/d fish oil capsule (Lovaza®/Omacor®) and 2000 IU/day vitamin D3 administered to 25,871 men ≥50 y of age and women ≥55 y of age.  The primary endpoints were major cardiovascular events (a composite of myocardial infarction [MI], stroke or death from cardiovascular causes) and invasive cancer of any type.  The key secondary endpoints were individual components of the composite cardiovascular endpoint, the composite endpoint plus coronary revascularization, site-specific cancers and death from cancer.  Patients were followed for a median of 5.3 y.  A discussion of the findings from the omega-3 and cardiovascular disease portion of the trial follows.

A major cardiovascular event occurred in 386 subjects in the omega-3 group and 419 in the placebo group (hazard ratio [HR] 0.92, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.80 to 1.06, p = 0.24).1  The HR (95% CI) for the key secondary endpoints were 0.93 (0.82 to 1.04) for the composite plus coronary revascularization, 0.72 (0.59 to 0.90) for total MI, 1.04 (0.83 to 1.31) for total stroke, and 0.96 (0.76 to 1.21) for death from cardiovascular causes.  There were no excess risks of bleeding or other serious adverse events with the interventions.

In our opinion, the response to the results from VITAL has been unnecessarily pessimistic.2  It is true that the 8% reduction in the primary composite endpoint was not statistically significant.  However, as we have previously written, we believe that the failure of many of the omega-3 cardiovascular outcomes trials to show clear evidence of benefit can likely be attributed, in part, to the low dosages of omega-3 administered (most <1 g/d eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] + docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) and the groups in which the studies have been conducted (without elevated triglycerides [TG] and not limited to subjects with low omega-3 dietary intake).3  This was also the case in VITAL, where subjects at relatively low cardiovascular risk were administered a 1g/d fish oil concentrate capsule (providing 840 mg/d EPA + DHA) and the median fish intake in the study sample at baseline was well above the average intake in the US general population.1

 Results from the Reduction of Cardiovascular Events with Icosapent Ethyl-Intervention Trial (REDUCE-IT), presented in the same late-breaking clinical trials session at AHA and published simultaneously in New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrated that Vascepa® at a higher dosage of 4 g/d (~3700 mg/d EPA as icosapent ethyl) administered to subjects at higher risk with elevated TG (median of 216 mg/dL) resulted in a significant 25% reduction in the primary endpoint, the composite of cardiovascular death, nonfatal MI, nonfatal stroke, coronary revascularization or unstable angina.4  Unfortunately, an editorial that accompanied VITAL did not acknowledge the findings from REDUCE-IT, and in fact stated “…in the absence of additional compelling data, it is prudent to conclude that the strategy of dietary supplementation with either n-3 fatty acids or vitamin D as protection against cardiovascular events or cancer suffers from deteriorating VITAL signs.”2  It would seem that we do have “additional compelling data” in REDUCE-IT and that we should not abandon the idea that omega-3 fatty acids, when administered at higher dosages and to higher risk populations, reduces cardiovascular risk.  This adds to the biologic plausibility of the secondary outcomes for which benefits were observed.

In VITAL, endpoints that achieved nominal statistical significance included reductions in total MI (HR 0.72, 95% CI 0.59 to 0.90), total coronary heart disease (composite of MI, coronary revascularization and death from coronary heart disease; HR 0.83, 95% CI 0.71 to 0.97) and death from MI (HR 0.50, 95% CI 0.26 to 0.97) with omega-3 fatty acids vs. placebo.1  However, the editorial that accompanied VITAL emphasized the strong need for caution in interpreting “positive” results from secondary endpoints.2  While we agree that statistically significant secondary endpoints should not outweigh the null findings from the primary endpoint, it is also important that findings from secondary endpoints are not overlooked, particularly when they are in general agreement with results from prior studies.3,5-7  It is also notable that the subgroup with below-median fish intake at baseline showed statistically significant reductions of 19% and 40% in the primary outcome variable and total MI, respectively.1  This observation further supports the possibility that a relatively low dosage of EPA + DHA may have benefits in those with lower omega-3 fatty acid intakes.8

Our group published a meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials that investigated the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on cardiac death, and reported that there was an 8% lower risk with omega-3 fatty acids vs. controls (and ~29% lower risk when dosages >1 g/d EPA + DHA were evaluated).7  Death from CHD in VITAL was not statistically significantly lower (HR 0.76, 95% CI 0.49 to 1.16).1  However, to further assess the potential for fatal CHD reduction with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, we added the results from VITAL,1 along with other recently published trials,4,6 to a previous meta-analysis published by Aung and colleagues.5  This analysis demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in fatal CHD with omega-3 fatty acid interventions (relative risk 0.901, 95% CI 0.841 to 0.965, p = 0.003).9

Thus, it is our opinion that the null findings for the primary cardiovascular endpoint in VITAL need to be interpreted alongside the favorable findings from REDUCE-IT.  These results suggest the need for additional studies with higher dosages of EPA + DHA administered to high-risk populations.  We eagerly await the results from the last of the large-scale omega-3 fatty acid trials that is underway, The Outcomes Study to Assess Statin Residual Risk Reduction with Epanova in High Cardiovascular Risk Patients with Hypertriglyceridemia (STRENGTH), which enrolled subjects with elevated TG and below-average high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.10

References:

  1. Manson JE, Cook NR, Lee IM, et al. Marine n-3 fatty acids and prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. N Engl J Med. 2018; Epub ahead of print.

 

  1. Keaney JF, Jr., Rosen CJ. VITAL signs for dietary supplementation to prevent cancer and heart disease. N Engl J Med. 2018; Epub ahead of print.

 

  1. Maki KC, Dicklin MR. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and cardiovascular disease risk: glass half full or time to nail the coffin shut? Nutrients. 2018;10(7).

 

  1. Bhatt DL, Steg G, Miller M, et al. Cardiovascular risk reduction with icosapent ethyl for hypertriglyceridemia. N Engl J Med. 2018; Epub ahead of print.

 

  1. Aung T, Halsey J, Kromhout D, et al. Associations of omega-3 fatty acid supplement use with cardiovascular disease risks: meta-analysis of 10 trials involving 77917 individuals. JAMA Cardiol. 2018;3:225-234.

 

  1. ASCEND Study Collaborative Group. Effects of n-3 fatty acid supplements in diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 2018; Epub ahead of print.

 

  1. Maki KC, Palacios OM, Bell M, Toth PP. Use of supplemental long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk for cardiac death: an updated meta-analysis and review of research gaps. J Clin Lipidol. 2018;11:1152-1160.

 

  1. Rimm EB, Appel LJ, Chiuve SE, et al. Seafood long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: a science advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2018;138:e35-e47.

 

  1. Maki KC, Dicklin MR. Recent headlines from the late-breaking clinical trial presentations at the American Heart Association scientific sessions. REDUCE-IT – a landmark cardiovascular outcomes study of an omega-3 fatty acid. November 27, 2018. Available at https://mbclinicalacademy.com/headlines/.

 

  1. Nicholls SJ, Lincoff AM, Bash D, et al. Assessment of omega-3 carboxylic acids in statin-treated patients with high levels of triglycerides and low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol: rationale and design of the STRENGTH trial. Clin Cardiol. 2018; 41:1281-1288.

 

 

 

Medical equipment

Mechanisms Responsible for the Benefit on Cardiovascular Risk in the REDUCE-IT Trial

Mechanisms Responsible for the Benefit on Cardiovascular Risk in the REDUCE-IT Trial

By Kevin C Maki, PhD

 

Recently, we learned of the impressive topline results from the Reduction of Cardiovascular Events with Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – Intervention Trial (REDUCE-IT), which showed that Vascepa® (icosapent ethyl or EPA ethyl esters) lowered major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) by nearly 25% (p < 0.001) when added to statin therapy in patients with hypertriglyceridemia at high cardiovascular risk.1  This is great news, since residual hypertriglyceridemia is common in statin-treated patients.2  Moreover, other relatively inexpensive evidence-based therapies such as ezetimibe have been shown to have only a modest effect on MACE risk (~10%) when added to statin therapy, consistent with the anticipated effect based on the degree of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) lowering.  Proprotein convertase subtilisin kexin type 9 (PCSK9) inhibitors offer greater LDL-C reduction, but at a much higher cost.

 

The topline results from REDUCE-IT were a surprise to many who had concluded, based mainly on results from studies of omega-3 fatty acid interventions at low dosages in groups that did not have elevated average levels of triglycerides (TG), that omega-3 fatty acids were ineffective for lowering cardiovascular disease risk.3-7  I am looking forward to seeing the full set of results from REDUCE-IT, which will be presented at the 2018 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions and, hopefully, simultaneously published in a peer-reviewed journal.  These should provide more insight into the nature of the event reduction and possible lipid and non-lipid related drivers of the MACE reduction.

 

We know from the development program for Vascepa that it produces significant reductions in TG and TG-rich lipoprotein cholesterol levels.  In the ANCHOR trial, 4 g/d of Vascepa lowered the TG level by 21.5% relative to placebo in hypertriglyceridemic patients (median baseline TG 259 mg/dL) on statin therapy.8  In REDUCE-IT, the median baseline TG concentration was 216 mg/dL.  Therefore, if we assume a similar percentage reduction in TG, that would be 0.215 x 216 = 46.4 mg/dL.

 

There are several mechanisms through which long-chain omega-3 fatty acid interventions, (including EPA) may affect cardiovascular risk, of which TG lowering is only one.  Others include reducing myocardial fibrosis, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, reducing platelet activation and anti-inflammatory effects.9,10  Also, the physiologic effects of EPA, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA; an intermediate in the conversion of EPA to DHA) are not identical, so we cannot assume that the effects will be identical for interventions that vary in the proportions of these fatty acids.  However, my view is that a large fraction of the benefit in REDUCE-IT is likely to be attributable to TG lowering based on two lines of evidence.

 

First, a meta-analysis conducted by my colleagues and I of the effects of TG-lowering drug therapies showed a modest effect overall (12% risk reduction in 10 trials), but larger effects in subgroups with TG ≥150 mg/dL (18% risk reduction), especially if accompanied by low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C; 29% risk reduction).11,12  The subjects in REDUCE-IT all had elevated TG and a large percentage likely also had low HDL-C.

 

Second, a meta-regression by Jun et al. showed that each 0.1 mmol/L (8.85 mg/dL) reduction in TG with fibrate therapy was associated with a reduction of 5% in MACE risk.13  The approximate reduction in TG relative to placebo of 46.4 mg/dL in REDUCE-IT would therefore be expected to produce 5.24 units (46.4/8.85 = 5.24) of 5% MACE reduction, i.e., 1 - 0.955.24= 0.236 or 23.6% MACE reduction.  The biologic plausibility of a benefit being attributable to TG reduction is supported not only by evidence from prior randomized, controlled trials of TG-lowering drug therapies (albeit in subgroups), but also by studies showing that genetic variants associated with reduced TG (and TG-rich lipoprotein cholesterol) are associated with lower cardiovascular risk. 

 

My colleagues and I view the results from REDUCE-IT as a major positive development for patient care.  We eagerly anticipate the full REDUCE-IT results, as well as those from additional studies that, we hope, will provide greater insight into the mechanisms responsible for reduced MACE risk in the REDUCE-IT trial.

 

References:

  1. Amarin Corporation. REDUCE-IT cardiovascular outcomes study of VASCEPA® (icosapent ethyl) capsules met primary endpoint. September 24, 2018. Available at https://investor.amarincorp.com/news-releases/news-release-details/reduce-ittm-cardiovascular-outcomes-study-vascepar-icosapent.

 

  1. Fan W, Philip S, Granowitz C, et al. Prevalence and predictors of residual hypertriglyceridemia according to statin use in US adults. J Clin Lipidol. 2018;12:530-531.

 

  1. Maki KC, Dicklin MR. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and cardiovascular disease risk: glass half full or time to nail the coffin shut? Nutrients. 2018;10:864.

 

  1. Aung T, Halsey J, Kromhout D, et al. Associations of omega-3 fatty acid supplement use with cardiovascular disease risks: Meta-analysis of 10 trials involving 77,917 individuals. JAMA Cardiol. 2018;3:224-234.

 

  1. Alexander DD, Miller PE, Van Elswyk ME, et al. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and coronary heart disease risk. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;29:15-29.

 

  1. Abdelhamid AS, Brown TJ, Brainard JS, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;7:CD003177.

 

  1. The ASCEND Study Collaborative Group. Effects of n-3 fatty acid supplements in diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 2018 [Epub ahead of print].

 

  1. Ballantyne CM, Bays HE, Kastelein JJ, et al. Efficacy and safety of eicosapentaenoic acid ethyl ester (AMR 101) therapy in statin-treated patients with persistent high triglycerides (from the ANCHOR study). Am J Cardiol. 2012;110:984-992.

 

  1. Mozaffarian D, Wu JH. Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: effects on risk factors, molecular pathways, and clinical events. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;58:2047-2067.

 

  1. Mozaffarian D, Prineas RJ, Stein PK, Siscovick DS. Dietary fish and n-3 fatty acid intake and cardiac electrocardiographic parameters in humans. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006;38:478-484.

 

  1. Maki KC, Guyton JR, Orringer CE, et al. Triglyceride-lowering therapies reduce cardiovascular disease event risk in subjects with hypertriglyceridemia. J Clin Lipidol. 2016;10:905-914.

 

  1. Maki KC, Dicklin MR. Do triglyceride-lowering drugs decrease risk of cardiovascular disease? Curr Opin Lipidol. 2017;28:374-379.

 

  1. Jun M, Foote C, Lv J, et al. Effects of fibrates on cardiovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. 2010;375:1875-1884.

 

 

 

Photo by Vincent Botta

Topline Results from REDUCE-IT Show a Significant Reduction in Cardiovascular Outcomes with Omega-3 Fatty Acid

Topline Results from REDUCE-IT Show a Significant Reduction in Cardiovascular Outcomes with Omega-3 Fatty Acid

By Kevin C Maki, PhD and Mary R Dicklin, PhD

 

Exciting topline results from the Reduction of Cardiovascular Events with Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) – Intervention Trial (REDUCE-IT) were recently announced by Amarin, the maker of Vascepa®.1 The full results are scheduled to be presented on November 10, 2018 at the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Scientific Sessions in Chicago, IL.  REDUCE-IT was a randomized, controlled trial that examined the effects of 4 g/d Vascepa vs. placebo on cardiovascular outcomes in statin-treated adults at elevated cardiovascular risk.2   Topline results indicated an ~25% relative risk reduction (p < 0.001) in the primary composite endpoint of the first occurrence of a major adverse cardiovascular event, including cardiovascular death, nonfatal myocardial infarction, nonfatal stroke, coronary revascularization, or unstable angina requiring hospitalization, after a median follow-up of 4.9 y.1

 

These results will take some by surprise, based on the abundance of unfavorable interpretations of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiovascular outcomes from other recently published trials and meta-analyses.3,4  However, as my colleagues and I previously speculated,5 a failure to show benefit in some of those other studies has likely been due, at least in part, to study design issues, including administration of low dosages and absence of a clear pathophysiologic target for the intervention.  Unlike previous studies, many of which gave 1 g/d Omacor®/Lovaza®, containing ~850 mg EPA + docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),6 in REDUCE-IT subjects received a high dosage of 4 g/d Vascepa (roughly 3,700 mg of EPA).Subjects in REDUCE-IT were also required to have elevated baseline triglycerides (TG) of ≥150 mg/dL and <500 mg/dL (lower limit later changed to ≥200 mg/dL), resulting in a median baseline TG level of 216 mg/dL.  Results from our meta-analysis suggested that medications which substantially lower TG reduce cardiovascular risk in those with elevated TG, especially if accompanied by low high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol.7  Thus, REDUCE-IT directly addressed the issue of TG-lowering as a target of therapy.

 

Our separate meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials that investigated the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiac death showed an 8% lower risk with omega-3 supplementation vs. controls, although the effect was much larger (29%) in studies where the dosage employed was >1 g/d of EPA + DHA.8  It is uncertain whether REDUCE-IT will have enough cardiac deaths to show a benefit for that outcome, although it should add a substantial number of events to the aggregate database of studies using higher dosages. 

 

Results from another large-scale clinical trial of omega-3 fatty acids, the Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL), are also scheduled to be presented at AHA.  In VITAL, subjects received 1 g/d of Omacor/Lovaza and were not required to have elevated TG levels at baseline.9  The results from VITAL and another recently reported trial (A Study of Cardiovascular Events in Diabetes; ASCEND)4 will facilitate a more complete assessment of the effects of low-dosage EPA + DHA on the risk of cardiac death, which has important public health implications.

 

The Outcomes Study to Assess Statin Residual Risk Reduction with Epanova in High Cardiovascular Risk Patients with Hypertriglyceridemia (STRENGTH) is another high-dosage study (4 g/d) of the carboxylic acids (free fatty acids) form of EPA + DHA, and the last of the large-scale omega-3 trials underway.  Subjects in STRENGTH were required to not only have elevated TG (≥180 mg/dL and <500 mg/dL), but also to have low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (<47 mg/dL for women and <42 mg/dL for men).10  STRENGTH is scheduled to complete in the fall of 2019.

 

References:

  1. Amarin Corporation. REDUCE-IT cardiovascular outcomes study of VASCEPA® (icosapent ethyl) capsules met primary endpoint. September 24, 2018. Available at https://investor.amarincorp.com/news-releases/news-release-details/reduce-ittm-cardiovascular-outcomes-study-vascepar-icosapent.

 

  1. Bhatt DL, Steg PG, Brinton EA, et al. Rationale and design of REDUCE-IT: reduction of cardiovascular events with icosapent ethyl-intervention trial. Clin Cardiol. 2017;40:138-148.

 

  1. Aung T, Halsey J, Kromhout D, et al. Associations of omega-3 fatty acid supplement use with cardiovascular disease risks: meta-analysis of 10 trials involving 77917 individuals. JAMA Cardiol. 2018;3:225-234.

 

  1. ASCEND Study Collaborative Group. Effects of n-3 fatty acid supplements in diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 2018; Epub ahead of print.

 

  1. Maki KC, Dicklin MR. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and cardiovascular disease risk: glass half full or time to nail the coffin shut? Nutrients. 2018;10(7).

 

  1. Abdelhamid AS, Brown TJ, Brainard JS, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;7:CD003177.

 

  1. Maki JC, Guyton JR, Orringer CE, et al. Triglyceride-lowering therapies reduce cardiovascular disease event risk in subjects with hypertriglyceridemia. J Clin Lipidol. 2016;10:905-914.

 

  1. Maki KC, Palacios OM, Bell M, Toth PP. Use of supplemental long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk for cardiac death: an updated meta-analysis and review of research gaps. J Clin Lipidol. 2018;11:1152-1160.

 

  1. Manson JE, Bassuk SS, Lee IM, et al. The Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL): rationale and design of a large randomized controlled trial of vitamin D and marine omega-3 fatty acid supplements for the primary prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Contemp Clin trials. 2012;33:159-171.

 

 

  1. Nicholls SJ, Lincoff AM, Bash D, et al. Assessment of omega-3 carboxylic acids in statin-treated patients with high levels of triglycerides and low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol: rationale and design of the STRENGTH trial. Clin Cardiol. 2018; Epub ahead of print.
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Results from A Study of Cardiovascular Events in Diabetes (ASCEND): Taking a Closer Look at the Potential Benefit of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Preventing Cardiac Death

Results from A Study of Cardiovascular Events in Diabetes (ASCEND): Taking a Closer Look at the Potential Benefit of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Preventing Cardiac Death

By Kevin C Maki, PhD; Mary R Dicklin, PhD

 

Results from A Study of Cardiovascular Events in Diabetes (ASCEND) were recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2018 held in Munich, Germany, along with their simultaneous publication in the New England Journal of Medicine.1,2  ASCEND was designed to evaluate whether daily aspirin safely prevented cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer in patients with diabetes, but without known CVD.3  The study also assessed whether supplementation with 1 g/d omega-3 fatty acids prevented CVD.  Persons with diabetes (n = 15,480) were randomly assigned to receive 100 mg/d aspirin or placebo and, in a factorial design, 1 g/d omega-3 fatty acid capsules, containing 460 mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 380 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), or placebo (olive oil).  The primary outcome was a first serious vascular event, which was defined as a composite of nonfatal myocardial infarction or stroke (excluding confirmed intracranial hemorrhage), transient ischemic attack, or vascular death.  The secondary outcome was a composite of any serious vascular event or any arterial revascularization procedure. 

 

The results for the omega-3 fatty acid portion of the trial showed no benefit from omega-3 vs. placebo for the primary or secondary composite outcomes.  During a mean follow-up of 7.4 years, a serious vascular event occurred in 8.9% and 9.2% of patients in the omega-3 and placebo groups, respectively, with a rate ratio of 0.97, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.87 to 1.08, p = 0.55.  The composite outcome of any serious vascular event or revascularization occurred in 11.4% and 11.5% of patients in the omega-3 and placebo groups, respectively, with a rate ratio of 1.00, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.09.  The lack of a significant benefit of omega-3 fatty acids on the pre-specified primary outcome in ASCEND was consistent with results from recent meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (compared to control or no treatment) on coronary heart disease (CHD) events.4  In a meta-analysis of 10 RCTs (n = 77,917) Aung et al. reported a risk ratio (95% CI) for a CHD event of 0.96 (0.90 to 1.01).5  Similarly, in a meta-analysis of 18 RCTs (n = 93,633) Alexander et al. reported a risk ratio of 0.94 (0.85 to 1.06).6  Abdelhamid et al. reported a risk ratio of 0.93 (0.88 to 0.97) in a meta-analysis of 28 RCTs (n = 84,301).7

 

Although the balance of the evidence from the RCTs conducted to date is supportive of the conclusion that omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation does not reduce risk for CHD events, there is promising evidence to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for preventing fatal CHD or cardiac death.4,8  A meta-analysis of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiac death (defined as deaths from CHD, cardiac arrhythmia or heart failure) in 14 RCTs (n = 71,899) showed a risk ratio of 0.92 (0.86 to 0.98), p = 0.015.8  Aung et al. also reported a marginally significant reduction in CHD death 0.93 (0.85-1.00).5  In ASCEND, there was a near-significant difference in coronary deaths (incidence rate ratio = 0.79, 95% CI 0.61 to 1.02).1  In addition, there were significantly fewer vascular deaths (which represented 28% of all deaths) in the fatty acid group than in the placebo group (incidence rate ratio = 0.82, 95% CI 0.68 to 0.98).  Vascular deaths included coronary, sudden, stroke, and pulmonary embolism mortality. 

 

The ASCEND investigators suggested the possibility that if their results were to be combined with the studies reported in the meta-analysis by Aung et al., that a small benefit for fatal CHD might be detected.1,5  To assess this possibility, we have added the events reported in ASCEND to the events reported by Aung et al., and there was, in fact, a significant reduction in CHD/coronary death.

 

CHD deaths were as follows:

  • Aung meta-analysis5: 1301 of 39017 participants for omega-3 and 1394 of 38900 participants for control
  • ASCEND1: 100 of 7740 participants for omega-3 and 127 of 7740 participants for control
  • When combined, this is 3.00% of 46757 participants for omega-3 and 3.26% of 46640 participants for control
  • The relative risk is 0.919 (95% CI 0.855 to 0.987, p = 0.021)

 

Commentary

Although it is important to not over-interpret findings from post-hoc subset analyses, these results show promise for the prevention of cardiac death with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation through mechanisms that we outlined in our recent editorial comment in Nutrients.4  Unfortunately, the dosages used in most RCTs of omega-3 fatty acids conducted to date have been small (most employed 1 g/d Omacor/Lovaza, which contains 840 mg of EPA + DHA).  Pooled results from observational studies with omega-3 biomarker measurements suggest that each 1-standard deviation (SD) increase in omega-3 status is associated with a 12-16% reduction in risk for CHD death.9  Based on the same observational study dataset, Harris et al. estimated that a 1-SD increase in omega-3 index (erythrocyte fatty acid EPA + DHA content), or 2.1% from the 10 cohorts included in the analysis, was associated with a 15% (95% CI 9% to 20%) reduction in risk for fatal CHD.10

 

A subset of 152 of the ASCEND participants had omega-3 index measurements completed.  There was no material change in the placebo group (6.6% at baseline and 6.5% at follow-up), whereas the index increased from 7.1% to 9.1% in the omega-3 fatty acid group, resulting in a net difference of 2.1% in the change from baseline, and a difference between groups of 2.6% at the end of the trial.  If the Harris et al. estimate of a 15% reduction in fatal CHD risk per 2.1% (1-SD) omega-3 index difference is applied to the ASCEND data, the predicted risk reduction would be 15%, or 18% if the difference between groups during follow-up of 2.6% (1.24-SDs) is used.10  These estimates are close to the observed difference of 21% in coronary death. 

 

At lower dosages, it is our opinion that there is no compelling evidence to suggest benefits regarding non-fatal myocardial infarction or stroke, but that there is promising evidence for prevention of cardiac death.  Of the three large-scale trials that have been recently completed or are underway, including the Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL),11 the Outcomes Study to Assess Statin Residual Risk Reduction with Epanova in High Cardiovascular Risk Patients with Hypertriglyceridemia (STRENGTH)12 and the Reduction of Cardiovascular Events with EPA – Intervention Trial (REDUCE-IT),13 only the latter two trials are using a higher EPA+DHA dosage (≥3000 mg/d).  Future investigation should focus on higher dosages than have generally been employed to date.

 

Our view is that the potential for omega-3 fatty acid supplementation to reduce cardiac death clearly deserves additional study.  Further details about why we hold this view may be found in our recent commentary in Nutrients.4  Also, we agree with the recent recommendation from the American Heart Association that it is reasonable to consider an omega-3 fatty acid supplement for patients with atherosclerotic CVD or heart failure.  The message to patients can be as follows:

  1. There is little or no risk associated with taking an omega-3 fatty acid (EPA + DHA) supplementation;
  2. The available evidence does not support a benefit of EPA + DHA supplements for reducing risk of heart attack or stroke;
  3. However, if a heart attack or heart failure should occur, those who take an omega-3 supplement might be less likely to die as a result.

 

References:

 

  1. The ASCEND Study Collaborative Group. Effects of n-3 fatty acid supplements in diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 2018 [Epub ahead of print].

 

  1. The ASCEND Study Collaborative Group. Effects of aspirin for primary prevention in persons with diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 2018 [Epub ahead of print].

 

  1. Bowman L, Mafham M, Stevens W, et al. ASCEND: A study of cardiovascular events in diabetes: characteristics of a randomized trial of aspirin and of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in 15,480 people with diabetes. Am Heart J. 2018;198:135-144.

 

  1. Maki KC, Dicklin MR. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and cardiovascular disease risk: glass half full or time to nail the coffin shut? Nutrients. 2018;10:864.

 

  1. Aung T, Halsey J, Kromhout D, et al. Associations of omega-3 fatty acid supplement use with cardiovascular disease risks: Meta-analysis of 10 trials involving 77,917 individuals. JAMA Cardiol. 2018;3:224-234.

 

  1. Alexander DD, Miller PE, Van Elswyk ME, et al. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and coronary heart disease risk. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;29:15-29.

 

  1. Abdelhamid AS, Brown TJ, Brainard JS, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;7:CD003177.

 

  1. Maki KC, Palacios OM, Bell M, Toth PP. Use of supplemental long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk for cardiac death: An updated meta-analysis and review of research gaps. J Clin Lipidol. 2017;11:1152-1160.

 

  1. Del Gobbo LC, Imamura F, Aslibekyan S, et al. n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid biomarkers and coronary heart disease: pooling project of 19 cohort studies. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176:1155-1166.

 

  1. Harris WS, Del Gobbo L, Tintle NL. The omega-3 index and relative risk for coronary heart disease mortality: estimation from 10 cohort studies. Atherosclerosis. 2017;262:51-54.

 

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