In a recent study led by University of Georgia scientist, Kaixiong Ye, the research team aimed to focus on the benefits of using fish oil and its effects on triglycerides. The study was published in Plos One Genetics. In a press release, Dr. Ye, assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences said, “We’ve known for a few decades that a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. What we found is that fish oil supplementation is not good for everyone; it depends on your genotype. If you have a specific genetic background, then fish oil supplementation will help lower your triglycerides. But if you do not have that right genotype, taking a fish oil supplement actually increases your triglycerides.”

In the study, researchers divided the sample into two groups—those taking fish oil supplements (about 11,000) and those not taking fish oil supplements. Then they performed a genome-wide scan for each group, testing for 8 million genetic variants to compare the results. After running over 64 million tests, their results revealed a substantial genetic variant at gene GJB2. In the study, individuals with the AG genotype who took fish oil reduced their triglycerides.

Individuals with the AA genotype who took fish oil slightly boosted their triglycerides. (A third possible genotype, GG, was not evident in enough study volunteers to draw conclusions.) The researchers noted that many direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies can now assist individuals in ascertaining their genotype. Dr. Ye pointed out, however, that companies do not provide information on specific genetic variants yet. The authors also acknowledged that the study’s findings may cast light on previous trials, most of which discovered that fish oil provides no benefit in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Ye also posited, “One possible explanation is that those clinical trials didn’t consider the genotypes of the participants. Some participants may benefit, and some may not, so if you mix them together and do the analysis, you do not see the impact. Personalizing and optimizing fish oil supplementation recommendations based on a person’s unique genetic composition can improve our understanding of nutrition, and lead to significant improvements in human health and well-being.”

Since the researchers have identified a specific gene that can alter an individual’s response to fish oil supplementation, the next step will be directly testing the effects of supplementation with fish oil on cardiovascular disease. The researchers also remarked that their discoveries may explain why so many studies cast uncertainty on fish oil’s ability to enhance heart health.

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