Omega-3 Oils and Heart Health

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There is a definite connection between having a healthy heart and consuming Omega-3 fatty acids (especially EPA and DHA) found in fish oils.  Though many studies on the heart benefits of fish oil exist, we need look no further than this month’s issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In this edition there are no fewer than four articles pointing to the amazing heart-healthy benefits of fish oils.

The first article shows that taking larger doses of EPA and DHA significantly lowers triglyceride levels in healthy people with hypertriglyceridemia (high triglycerides).  This is not new news, however. The American Heart Association recommends two to four grams of EPA/DHA daily for people with high triglycerides.1   Chronically high levels of triglycerides promote heart disease.

The second article points out how dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults.2 Since the heart is our most important muscle, it would certainly apply to the heart as well as to skeletal muscle.  Simply by preventing skeletal muscle wasting (sarcopenia), it will benefit the heart.  Loss of skeletal muscle, or sarcopenia, will decrease mobility and exercise tolerance, and gradually lead to chronic low grade inflammation and elevated blood sugar—both of which negatively impact the heart health.

The third article suggests that omega-3 and soy isoflavone supplementation provide an effective means of reducing arterial stiffness.3 Arterial stiffness is an indicator of poor function of the inner lining of arteries (endothelium) which eventually leads to arterial narrowing and clotting of the arteries (atherosclerosis).  As this process continues, congestive heart failure, heart attacks, and arrhythmias are likely to occur.

The fourth article refers to the Mediterranean diet (high in EPA and DHA from fish), which reduces endothelial damage and improves the regenerative capacity of endothelium.4 They point out again that endothelial dysfunction is a fundamental step in the atherosclerotic disease process.

These articles are part of a growing body of evidence on the many ways fish oil can help maintain a healthy heart.

  1. A.C. Skulas-Ray, et al., “Dose-response effects of omega-3 fatty acids on triglycerides, inflammation, and endothelial function in healthy persons with moderate hypertriglyceridemia.”Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):243-52.
  2. G.I. Smith, et al., “Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):402-12.
  3. M.P. Pace, et al., “The effects of dietary and nutrient interventions on arterial stiffness: a systematic review.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):446-54. Epub 2010 Dec 8.
  4. C. Marin, et al., “Mediterranean diet reduces endothelial damage and improves the regenerative capacity of endothelium.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):267-74. Epub 2010 Dec 1.

1 Comment

  • Jeffrey Simmons

    I read alot about this lately and started taking Omega 3 supplements this past Sunday. A few hours after taking them I fet bad, cramping, diarrhea, headache. I didn’t take them Monday and was fine. I took them on Tuesday and had a repeat of Sunday. Is this normal? I really want to take the Omega 3, what is your suggestion?

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