What is the connection between omega-3 fish oil and heart disease? To explore this question, let’s first take a look and omega-3 supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most popular supplements worldwide.
Consequently, they have a wide variety of benefits, including:
However, beginning in the early 2000s, word started to spread about omega-3 fish oil and heart disease.
For instance, a 2017 study found that fish oil can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. (1)
Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between fish oil and heart health:
What are Omega-3s?
Omega-3s are fatty acids found in seafood and some plants.
The most beneficial omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
What Is Heart Disease?
“Heart disease” includes a wide variety of conditions.
Here are a few of the most common types of heart disease:
- Congenital artery disease/ischemic heart disease: buildup of plaque
- Heart infections: caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites
- Arrhythmia: abnormal heart rhythm
- Atherosclerosis: hardening of the arteries
- Cardiomyopathy: hardening of the heart’s muscles
Ultimately, if it affects the blood vessels, it falls under the category of heart disease.
Who Is Most at Risk for Heart Disease?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. (2)
Amazingly, that’s about 600,000 people a year!
And it doesn’t discriminate either…
It claims the lives of large numbers of Hispanics, African-Americans and Caucasians.
Even worse, the numbers are rising.
Although heart disease can be deadly, it’s preventable in most people.
Due to lifestyle factors, it is more common in men than in women.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
The symptoms of heart disease vary depending on the cause.
Moreover, common symptoms of heart disease include:
- Slow heart rate
- Chest pain
- Numbness, coldness and weakness in the limbs
- Unexplained pain
- Swelling of the arms and legs
- Shortness of breath
- Low energy
- Irregular heart beat
- Skin rash
The History of Omega-3 Fish Oil and Heart Disease
Early studies on omega-3 fish oil and heart disease come from Greenland’s Inuit population.
Furthermore, researchers linked the low rates of cardiovascular conditions to their high-fish diet.
Compared to their Danish neighbors, the Inuits had lower triglyceride levels and longer blood clotting times.
In other words, their cardiovascular systems were healthier!
Ultimately, these early findings became the basis for over four decades of research.
Over the years, most research continued to support this connection.
For example, a meta-analysis of 19 studies found that EPA and DHA can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 10 percent. (3)
However, the connection between omega-3 fish oil and heart disease may not be as clear-cut as you think…
Several clinical trials have not reported any benefits of omega-3s and heart disease. (4)
Let’s take a closer look at what these different results might mean:
How Strong Is the Evidence on Omega-3 Fish Oil and Heart Disease?
Early trials of omega-3s and heart disease reported plenty of preventative benefits.
However, several later studies did not.
So what gives?
It’s important to note that several factors can influence the outcome of a study.
For example, lifestyle factors like lack of exercise can affect the results.
However, the bottom line is that most studies show that fish oil can have a positive effect on heart health.
In the end, omega-3 foods and supplements are a smart choice.
Mediterranean Diet, Omega-3 Fish Oil and Heart Disease
Fish and other seafood are a central part of the Mediterranean diet.
Consequently, researchers think this is partly why the Mediterranean has some of the longest lifespans in the world.
One thing’s for sure…
Large studies show that eating a lot of wild-caught fish is strongly linked to: (5)
- Reduced heart rate
- Stronger blood vessels
- Reduced risk of heart failure
- Lower rates of cardiovascular disease
However, make sure your fish is either baked or boiled, never fried!
According to the American Heart Association, the best types of fish are:
As it turns out, these fish contain higher amounts of EPA and DHA.
Thus, eat them at least twice a week. (6)
Omega-3 Fish Oil and Heart Disease
Not everyone has access to wild-caught fish.
In that case, fish oil supplements are a great substitute.
However, keep in mind that the results of omega-3 supplements and heart disease are mixed.
This is why it’s important to get omega-3s from whole food sources whenever you can.
With that said, studies haven’t found any negative effects on fish oil supplements and heart health.
In the end, a combination of wild-caught fish and omega-3 supplements is the best way to go.
Cardiovascular Benefits: Omega-3 Fish Oil and Heart Disease
Omega-3 fish oil has a clear impact on different risk factors of heart disease.
Consequently, these protective effects include:
- Reducing inflammation
- Preventing blood clots
- Lowering blood pressure
- Supporting blood flow
- Reducing triglyceride levels
Here’s an in-depth breakdown of the recent research:
1. Strengthens the Cell Membrane
As it turns out, omega-3s affect the heart at a cellular level.
The fatty acids in fish oil affect several cellular functions.
For instance, studies show that omega-3 fatty acids impact how cells process proteins.
What does this mean for your health?
By affecting proteins, omega-3s strengthen the heart muscle and blood vessels. (7)
2. Reduces Inflammation
One of the biggest benefits of omega-3 fish oil is its anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation, we now know, is the root cause of most disease.
Thus, several studies show that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. (8)
Therefore, scientists believe these anti-inflammatory effects may reduce inflammation in the blood vessels.
According to some studies, DHA may be more important than EPA for reducing inflammation.
Other results have been mixed…
For example, a trial of 20 healthy athletes found that daily omega-3 supplementation for six weeks found no significant change in inflammation. (9)
However, most studies on omega-3s and inflammation show positive results.
3. Boosts Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide is a powerful neurotransmitter that improves circulation and helps the blood vessels relax.
Moreover, this may improve clogged arteries, chest pain and coronary artery disease.
By boosting nitric oxide, omega-3 fatty acids may also support the lining of the cells. (10)
4. Lowers Blood Pressure
Omega-3s can lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
Once again, researchers believe that EPA and DHA are responsible. (11)
These nutrients reduce blood pressure by increasing the flexibility of the arteries.
5. Reduces Blood Triglyceride Levels
It’s well known that omega-3 fatty acids reduce triglyceride levels in the blood—a common risk factor for heart disease.
Ultimately, omega-3s help keep the blood vessels clear.
Research shows that DHA is more important than EPA for reducing triglycerides. (12)
6. Improves Blood Flow Around the Heart
Studies show that omega-3 supplements can improve blood flow around the heart.
Researchers think this is because they help the blood vessels expand and support heart contractions. (13)
Other Heart-Healthy Foods
As it turns out, fish isn’t the only heart-healthy food out there…
Here are a few of the healthiest foods for the heart:
1. Leafy Green Vegetables
Greens like kale, collards, chard and spinach are nutritional powerhouses.
In other words, they’re loaded to the teeth with ingredients that are good for the heart.
They supply tons of vitamins like vitamin K and minerals like magnesium and potassium.
Not only that, but they’re also high in antioxidants.
Even more, a 2016 review of eight studies found that leafy green vegetables are associated with a 16 percent lower risk of heart disease. (14)
Avocados are a popular food for their creamy texture and filling fats.
Plus, they’re loaded with important nutrients like vitamin K, vitamins E and potassium.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that a diet high in healthy fats can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. (15)
Berries like blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are low in sugar and high in heart-healthy antioxidants.
They help fight free radicals and prevent disease.
Studies show that eating berries can reduce inflammation and have a significant effect on heart health.
For example, a 2016 review of 22 studies found that berries can reduce bad LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure and fight inflammation. (16)
Plus, berries are loaded with key nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin K and fiber.
If you have any more questions about omega-3 fish oil and heart disease, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.