omega-3 and heart disease

The Relationship Between Omega-3 and Heart Disease

Well, it’s out in the open: Research conducted on the relationship between omega-3 and health disease shows that the consumption of the fatty acids EPA and DHA may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may significantly reduce the risk of sudden death caused by heart arrhythmia and other heart disease.  Recent studies indicate that taking a marine omega-3 fatty acid supplement can help reduce the risk of heart attack and heart-related death.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also used to help treating high cholesterol (hyperlipidemia) and high blood pressure (hypertension). What’s more, there are no important drug interactions with omega-3 fatty acids. 

The healing effects of omega-3 fatty acids are a subject of extensive and active research. Omega-3 fatty acids can fundamentally increase arrhythmic thresholds, reduce blood pressure, improve arterial and endothelial function, among other things.  

What’s all the buzz about omega-3s and heart health?

Opinions vary tremendously when it comes to omega-3 and heart disease. Clinical studies carried out in the 1990s reported that omega-3 supplementation reduced the risk of heart disease. At the same time the majority of authorities were recommending that people would benefit from daily omega-3 intakes. Meanwhile, several studies conducted in the 2000s began to question the benefits of omega-3 supplementation, arguing that omega-3s were overrated.

The tide seems to be turning once again in favor of the positive effects of omega-3s on heart health. A recent analysis revealed that omega-3 fatty acids appear to be beneficial in reducing the risk of heart disease. And an editorial commenting on the analysis declared it to be “the most comprehensive of its kind to date.” 

The same authorities went on to assert that “omega-3 fatty acid intake of at least 1 gram of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) per day, continues to be a reasonable strategy.” Usually, the recommended starting dose is 500 to 1,000 milligrams. 

omega-3 and heart disease
Research reveals that omega-3s appear to be beneficial in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Nutrients touch your heart: Love story with a history

At the dawn of the 20th century, dietary fat was seen simply as a source of calories, just like carbohydrates. That all changed in the year 1929 when George and Mildred Burr discovered that omega-3 essential fatty acids were required to prevent a deficiency disease that occurred in laboratory rats fed a fat-free diet. They concluded that fatty acids were essential nutrients.

In 1937, the British physiologist Hugh Sinclair conducted extensive studies. He was specially interested in whether deficiencies in polyunsaturated fatty acids could cause coronary artery diseases. Sinclair first visited the Inuit, a group of indigenous peoples living in the far northern areas of Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland, in 1944. In the course of his research he became convinced that the Inuit’s diet protects against atherosclerosis and Western diseases. 

A study conducted 41 years later by Dan Kromhout in the Netherlands, showed that eating fish once or twice a week was associated with a lower risk of fatal coronary artery disease compared with people who do not consume fish.

The findings of the before mentioned studies, promoted considerable interest in the role of omega-3 fatty acids in primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular diseases. 

omega-3 and heart disease
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to help prevent cardiovascular diseases

The correlation between heart diseases and omega-3

Since we humans do not possess the enzymes needed to synthesize fatty acids, we must obtain these fatty acids from our food sources. Experts have discovered  that people who consume high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have low rates of coronary heart disease. 

Coronary heart disease is caused by a long-term process called atherosclerosis. This happens when fatty deposits on the inside walls of the coronary arteries build up. Coronary arteries are responsible for the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. In time atherosclerosis leads to the blockage of the coronary arteries with plaque or a blood clot, possibly causing chest pain, heart attack or cardiac arrest.

Experts argue that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk for coronary heart disease by slowing down the growth rate of plaque in blood vessels. They may also help prevent blood clot formation and inflammation of the blood vessels. Omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial in lowering triglyceride levels, blood pressure and the risk of abnormal heart rhythm.

omega-3 and heart disease
Omega-3s may slow down the growth rate of plaque in blood vessels.

Fish and the danger of mercury contamination

EPA and DHA are also called marine omega-3s, because they are found in fatty fish and marine algae. Fish may also contain changing amounts of mercury. Mercury is a heavy metal released into the environment through several channels including mining and industrial work. It can build up in fish in the form of methylmercury which is extremely poisonous. 

The amount of mercury in fish and other marine life depends  various factors. For instance the lifespan and size of the species and the levels of pollution in their environment are very important. In fact larger fish with greater lifespans may have mercury concentrations levels that are up to 10 times higher than the smaller fish they pray on. This is a process we call biomagnification. 

Mercury exposure is linked to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attacks. A study involving 1,800 male participants revealed that men with the highest levels of mercury were two times more likely to die from heart-related problems than those with lower levels.

Research on the heart-related benefits of omega-3

In recent research published in the Journal of Hypertension, scientists claim that the consumption of omega-3s on a regular basis, helps correct your blood pressure. 

The very same study argues that omega-3 fatty acids are among the most important positive agents against risk factors associated with heart disease like high blood pressure.

Moreover, the Journal of the American Heart Association not long ago published a careful scientific analysis of 13 clinical trials of marine omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists say the findings support the claim that taking a marine omega-3 supplement can lower your risk of coronary heart disease. 

The study further indicates that omega-3 supplements may also lower the risk of having a heart attack or dying because of heart-related diseases. What’s more, a higher dose turned out to be more helpful than a moderate one.

omega-3 and heart disease
After 13 clinical trials, scientists suggest taking a marine omega-3 supplement can lower risks.

Safer way to get heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids

As we have seen, safety issues concerning fish is largely due to the amount of toxic chemicals their bodies may contain. On the other hand, the cardiovascular health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids go without saying. 

So, what-are-we-to-do?

Fatty fish is the main dietary source of omega-3 for most people. But you can quite easily meet the recommended omega-3 levels. All you have to do is eat plant-based foods, including omega-3-rich vegetables, nuts, seeds and most important of all, algae.

Seaweed, chlorella, spirulina and nori are some of the different forms of algae that many people eat for their health benefits. Seaweed and algae are essential sources of omega-3 for vegetarians and vegans alike. They are among the very few non-animal sources of DHA and EPA available.

People who cannot meet their omega-3 dietary requirements and people who experience high levels of inflammation may well benefit from taking omega-3 supplements. And for vegetarians or vegans alike, algae oils are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. The DHA and EPA content of such supplements may vary depending on the type of algae and brand.

We must include all three types of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. You may be experiencing difficulty in meeting your omega-3 requirement. Or you simply want to avoid fish-based sources… You can easily meet your requirement using plant-based and algae supplements.

omega-3 and heart disease
Seaweed and algae are great sources of omega-3 for vegetarians and vegans alike

The jury is out, but the case seems self evident

The pendulum seems to be constantly swinging when it comes to omega-3 and cardiovascular health. There’s no doubt that omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits. But when it comes to heart-related diseases, scientists seem to disagree.  The simple fact that not enough young and healthy people develop heart disease (thank the stars!) within the time-frame of a clinical study, prevents the results from being statistically significant. So we may never truly know whether or not omega-3 supplements reduce heart disease risk.

I believe that the authors of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings  editorial take a very useful approach, saying “Vitamin C bestows dramatic and lifesaving benefits to persons with scurvy, but is no better than placebo for persons who are replete with vitamin C.”.

I believe the total evidence is powerful enough to suggest that you should consider adding omega-3s supplements to your diet. After all is said and done, you actually have nothing to lose? Omega-3s will ultimately provide a health benefit, one way or another. So no matter what, you’ll be in a winning situation… 

omega-3 and heart disease
Omega-3s will probably benefit your health one way or another.

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