SALT LAKE (ABC4) — There has been confusion over fish oil supplements and questions if there are any benefits to them in fighting cardiovascular disease and other issues.

Some studies have shown the lack of benefits of fish oil but not all are created equal. Many researchers say there is an exception.

When it comes to diving into the debate over fish oil we’re really talking about the active ingredients of Omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers are focusing on DHA and EPA components of Omega-3s. They are essential nutrients we need and we get them from the foods we eat.

“We have to recognize not all fish oil are Omega 3s. The component of interest is actually Omega-3,” said Viet Le, Pa-C said.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in plants, flaxseed, some nuts, and in fish. The confusion surrounds fish oil because there are plenty of fish oil supplements out there.

Researchers have been concentrating efforts on the components of Omega-3s.

“The Omega-3s we are looking at is eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. This is the crux of it. Prescription-strength is different from off the shelf, Viet Le, Pa-C said.

Viet Le is a certified cardiovascular physician assistant at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah and has researched this subject at length.

He says beware of off-the-shelf fish oil supplements because you don’t know what is in them and what amounts.

But prescription grade and FDA approved fish oil is different.

In a clinical trial called “REDUCE-IT,” researchers investigated a prescribed medication called Vascepa.

“Its EPA only that is the Omega-3 version it uses and it’s an EPA at 4 grams that showed great outcome of cardiovascular events. So heart attacks, deaths, stroke, etc., said Viet Le.”

The confusion has come with other research such as in the STRENGTH trial where it used both EPA and DHA.

“It showed neutral effect using those two medications combined in one. They don’t mix well together,” Viet Le said.

Results from combining EPA and DHA have been inconclusive that’s why many doctors do not recommend off-the-shelf fish oil supplements.

“We just don’t know what you’re getting off-the-shelf, I’m not aware of any benefit with off-the-shelf supplements. Prescription is going to be a way of it. EPA alone has been shown to be beneficial but EPA with DHA has not. It’s neutral,” Viet Le said.

Add to the confusion? Vascepa, a prescription grade EPA, is technically not a fish oil but often is lumped into that category.

“It’s been said to be a fish oil but it’s not. It’s actually synthetic. Both DHA and EPA separately have important functions in the body,” Viet Le said.

There’s even talk perhaps EPA alone could help fight against COVID-19. “I hold out hope because they’re essential to the body. EPA reduces inflammation,” said Viet Le.

As a cardiovascular physician assistant at Intermountain Healthcare, Viet Le’s main goal for his patients is to prevent heart disease and other major health issues.

“Come back to the basics with lifestyle first. Let’s not develop a coronary disease to begin with but I want people to know EPA and other Omega-3s that we’re studying now at least with EPA has shown to be beneficial and another tool to use and give hope to people. We have tools but start with lifestyle first,” Viet Le.

More studies need to be done on EPA and DHA separately.

The takeaway? Prescription fish oil or prescription EPA found in Vascepa has been found beneficial for many health conditions.