Historically and culturally, consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids, otherwise known as fish oils, has been thought to help the human body fight off heart disease and heart attacks .
Today, more and more studies are showing that there is a strong correlation between Omega-3 fatty acids and markedly lower instances of cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart attacks , among many other health benefits.
These studies have caused the American Heart Association to take notice and suggest that individuals who have heart disease consider a diet that is supplemented with Omega-3 fatty acids either in capsule form or from a higher consumption of fish that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. These studies show promise in the fight against heart disease and heart attack and are even providing strong evidence that post-heart attack patients can benefit from a higher intake of fish oils in order to lower their chances of a second heart attack .
Why Are Fish Oils Good for a Healthy Heart?
Omega-3 fatty acids are made up of three basic components: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). These three acids work individually and in tandem to reduce different risks that are associated with heart disease and heart attack .
DHA is considered to be the most important of the three acids and is essential to heart health. Unfortunately, our bodies are not able to manufacture the amount of DHA that we need in order to stay healthy. This factor alone makes it necessary to get the amount of DHA we need through diet or dietary supplements. Consider for a moment that DHA is found in our brains and is directly linked to its function. Not only could you be helping your heart, but higher brain function can also be an added benefit with the addition of fish or fish oil supplements to your diet.
Fish and fish oils are the best vehicles for providing the necessary DHA our bodies require. Thus, the consumption of fish or fish oil in capsule form provides the highest amounts of Omega-3 acids.
Omega-3 acids are also important in helping to decrease the risk of atherosclerosis and arrhythmias, which are major contributors to heart disease and heart attack . Being able to reduce these two factors is an important reason to increase the intake of fish oils.
Reducing inflammation and the production of prostaglandin are also important for a healthy heart. Prostaglandins are one of the main causes of inflammation in the vascular system. Omega-3 fatty acids look for the same areas to bind with COX 1 enzymes that Omega-6 fatty acids look for. Since the Omega-6 fatty acids are converted to a much more active form of prostaglandin by COX 1 and COX 2 enzymes than Omega-3 fatty acids are, it is essential that the sites for binding the Omega-6 acids are blocked by the Omega-3 acids. In general, the Omega-3 acids that are converted to prostaglandins are between two and fifty times less active than those produced by Omega-6 fatty acids.
Another reason why fish oils are good for a healthy heart is that they help to reduce triglycerides (the chemical form in which fat exists in the body), which are a leading cause of coronary artery disease, which is a major cause of heart attacks . When taking the American Heart Association recommended 2 to 4 gram dose of DHA and EPA, triglycerides can be reduced by as much as 50%.
Another benefit of taking Omega-3 fatty acids is that the DHA and EPA help prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure. High blood pressure and blood clots are not a good combination. These two factors alone can create an environment in your body that is conducive to stroke or heart failure.
Other benefits that help reduce the chance of heart attack or heart disease are the possibility that Omega-3 acids increase HDL (good) cholesterol and that it may help in keeping arteries and blood vessels from closing back up after bypass surgery or angioplasty procedures.
Finally, when considering whether or not you should supplement your diet with fish oil capsules or by eating more fish, you should look at the benefits that can be derived from it, then schedule an appointment and talk with your doctor about the amount of Omega-3 acids you should take.
Evidence Supports Taking Omega-3 Supplements for Vascular Health
In a study published in August of 2009 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, data showed that taking Omega-3 supplements help to prevent and reduce problems that lead to cardiovascular diseases in both healthy people and individuals who have existing heart conditions or who have suffered from cardiac events. Some studies are also showing that Omega-3 fatty acids reduce LDL cholesterol, which is a leading cause of plaque build-up in arteries.
The studies were done with groups numbering in the thousands and over periods of time ranging from twenty to thirty years. The most surprising evidence was that which showed a sharp decrease in cardiovascular related deaths after a cardiovascular-related event such as heart attack or stroke.
Previous studies have always pointed to positive links between the reduction of heart disease and heart attack and Omega-3 fatty acids. In these studies, patients who consumed some form of Omega-3 fatty acids at least twice per week had much lower instances of plaque or clots in their arteries than those who didn’t. The reason for this is due to the clot and plaque inhibiting agents found in Omega-3 fatty acids.
In population-based studies, evidence pointed toward Omega-3 acid intake from fish as a primary aid in the prevention of strokes caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Those eating two or more servings of fish per week reduced their risk of stroke by nearly 50%.
Randomized clinical trials backed by the American Heart Association have shown that Omega-3 supplements can also reduce cardiovascular events, specifically death related to heart attacks , stroke and heart failure.
One such study, the Lyon Diet Heart Study, tested the effects of a Mediterranean-style diet that included fish consumed in moderate amounts. The study was performed on 302 experimental subjects and 303 control-group subjects, all of whom had survived a first heart attack and all of whom shared similar coronary risk factors. After one year the beneficial effects on 93% of the experimental subjects were so overwhelmingly positive that the study was concluded. The most notable result after a four-year check up was a 50 to 70 percent lowering of the risk of recurrent heart disease. This study, alone, showed the benefits of a dietary increase in Omega-3 fatty acids and the protective effects of these acids on the vascular system.
Studies have also shown that cultures who have a diet high in fish oil, specifically Inuit, Chinese and Mediterranean cultures, also have lower instances of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. However, as the popularity of fast food and foods high in saturated fats has grown among these diverse cultures, the instances of heart disease, heart attack and stroke due to the build-up of plaque and high blood pressure have gone up considerably.
These studies show, overwhelmingly, that there is a correlation between the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids and not only good heart health, but also healthy recovery and prevention of recurring instances of heart disease, vascular disease, heart attack , plaque build-up and heart failure. Ignoring the evidence presented in these studies would be the worst possible scenario. Omega-3 fatty acids are not produced in any significant amount by our bodies, so it is integral that we get them through other sources such as fish, fish oils and fish oil supplements. Otherwise, we can expect more and more problems associated with vascular disease and heart disease.
An Ounce of Prevention
The hard evidence of all of the major studies points toward Omega-3 fatty acids as preventatives for heart disease, stroke, plaque build-up, heart attack and vascular disease. Studies have also shown that fish oil supplements can also be more helpful than some cholesterol-reducing drugs when patients who suffer from chronic heart failure use it. Patients who suffer from an enlarged heart that cannot pump blood efficiently may be able to use fish oil supplements that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids to reduce the risks associated with high cholesterol.
The exciting news coming from a recent study that involved four different trials with nearly 40,000 participants showed that the heart healthy aspects of fish oil were not just limited to patients suffering from heart problems. The study revealed that these benefits actually primary in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Further evidence showed positive advantages in patients needing treatment after heart attacks and in patients suffering from heart failure.
As the evidence mounts and it becomes more and more obvious that Omega-3 fatty acids are a primary source of heart health and prevention of different vascular diseases, the push will be on for people to be educated about what practices they can utilize to increase their intake of fish oils and fish oil supplements. Most cardiologists and scientists involved in these studies agree that the majority of the population can easily make the necessary changes in their dietary habits to reach the recommended amounts of Omega-3 acids their bodies need.
For most people, the recommendation, based on the different studies that have been done, is 500 milligrams per day. However, for those suffering from heart disease that amount should be increased to between 800 and 1,000 milligrams per day. Another factor in the amount that should be taken is family history. If your relatives, especially immediate relatives, such as parents, grandparents or great-grand parents, have suffered from heart disease or vascular disease your intake should be in the 800 to 1,000 milligram category. Even if you haven’t suffered from heart disease or heart attack , you should take this amount as a preventative.
Exactly how to achieve the level of Omega-3 fatty acids that your body needs in order to prevent heart disease and heart attacks can be entirely up to you and what works for your lifestyle. The easiest way to get the appropriate levels is through some form of dietary supplement. There are numerous supplements on the market today that are appropriate for this purpose. The most important thing to be aware of is the purity of the fish oil. Not all fish oils are equal in the amounts of pure Omega-3 fatty acids they have in them. There is much evidence that suggest higher than normal mercury and lead levels in some fish. Obviously, these toxins are not appropriate for consumption. In order for mercury and other toxins to be removed, fish oil must go through the process of molecular distillation. This process purifies the fish oil and makes it ready for consumption.
At this time there are three principal types of fish oil supplements on the market: pharmaceutical grade fish oil, health food grade fish oil and lastly, cod liver oil. Pharmaceutical grade fish oil is processed using molecular distillation. This process eliminates toxins such as lead, mercury and PCBs. As a result the fish oil is the purest form of Omega-3 fatty acids available. Pharmaceutical grade fish oil, since it is the purest form available, is approximately 1,000 times more pure than health food grade fish oil because of the technologically advanced processes used to distill it. This ensures that even the smallest particulate level toxins have been removed leaving only the purest form of Omega-3 fatty acids. One thing to keep in mind is that because of the processes involved and the purity level of the fish oil produced, this grade of fish oil is the most expensive.
Health food grade fish oil is also molecularly distilled to remove toxins and contains the high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids our bodies need for continued heart health and heart disease prevention. One capsule can contain up to 300 milligrams of Omega-3 fatty acids and is generally perfect for anyone needing to supplement their dietary intake of fish oils. These fish oils, however, do not go through the same technologically advanced and rigorous processes that pharmaceutical grade fish oils go through. One advantage to health food grade fish oils is that most of the labels on the bottles will state what type of fish the oil was harvested from. These fish oils, since they are much lower in contaminants and toxins that standard cod liver oil, are perfectly suitable for consumption on a daily basis or as an additional boost to a diet that includes fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids. These supplements are obviously less expensive than pharmaceutical grade fish oil and generally fall into the mid-range of cost.
Cod liver oils are the lowest grade oils that contain Omega-3 fatty acids. Cod liver oil is generally inexpensive, however, if taken in too high of amounts the toxins that are in this oil can build up in the body. Cod liver oil is not as refined as pharmaceutical or health food grade fish oil supplements which means that it will contain contaminants and toxins such as lead, mercury, PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) and even DDT (dichlor-diphenyl-trichlorethylene). Most experts do not recommend the use of cod liver oil for Omega-3 fatty acid intake or supplementation, especially in high doses.
Some considerations when taking fish oil supplements are the side effects. While most of the side effects are not hazardous, they could be considered inconvenient. The most commonly worrisome side effect is the possibility of mercury contamination. However, if you are taking a supplement that has been molecularly distilled you don’t need to worry about this at all. Health food grade and pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplements contain, at most, trace amounts of mercury and in most cases none at all. As mentioned previously, the one source that contains the most mercury is cod liver oil. The most common side effect reported by those adding fish oil supplements to their diet was burping and a fishy aftertaste or smell. Overall, though, compared to the benefits of taking fish oil supplements that side effects are safe and easy to live with.
Either freezing the capsules or taking the capsules with a meal easily diminishes the two common side effects associated with these supplements. Read the labels on the bottle, though. Some manufacturers recommend against freezing these products.
For most people who want to increase their intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, eating fish is one of the easiest ways to achieve this. Generally, eating fish twice per week will allow you to get the levels of fish oil you need. Keep in mind, though, that some fish do not contain enough fish oil to be beneficial. Catfish, for instance, is a fish that has little to no Omega-3 fatty acid. Sablefish on the other hand is one of the safest fish to eat once per week and 100 grams of this fish contains approximately 1,490 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. This is more than enough to help in the prevention of heart problems such as heart disease and heart attack .
Historically and scientifically fish oils have been shown to decrease the chance of heart attack and heart failure as well as prevent these diseases after a cardiac event. With all of the information available about the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids and their preventative effects on heart disease, heart attacks , stroke and vascular disease, it’s easy to see that increasing the intake of these helpful oils should be a priority for almost everyone.