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Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce risk of heart disease

December 5, 2012

A new US review concludes that both fish consumption and supplements with omega-­3 fatty acids may help prevent coronary artery disease.

In the comprehensive review, studies were analyzed that investigated potential effects of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in the prevention of cardiovascular disease (1). The results showed that omega-3 fatty acids in diet and supplements are worthwhile in primary prevention of heart disease. The results were less clear regarding how much impact fish oils have in preventing further cardio-vascular events for people who already have heart disease. Among the fatty acids, DHA was shown to be the most important for human health as it is the predominant omega-3 fatty acid that accumulates in tissues.

The researchers commented that the evidence there is strong that DHA and EPA content in heart tissues and blood is important to health and to the prevention of cardiovascular disease. To meet the current recommen-dations for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease, individuals are advised to consume 200–300 milli-grams of combined EPA and DHA per day. Plant-derived sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed oil or chia seeds, seem to have less benefit than those from cold-water fish because of differences in how the human body processes these nutrients. For individuals unwilling or unable to consume fish or fish-oil supple-ments, some products made from yeast or algae are also of high quality, according to the researchers. They pointed to a wide body of other research which makes it clear that omega-3 fatty acids also have health benefits going beyond cardiovascular disease. They have been shown to improve visual acuity, improve cognitive function and reduce dementia, reduce inflammation and perhaps some types of cancer (e.g., colon cancer) and reduce total mortality.

The researchers noted that the effectiveness of modern drug therapies for heart disease may be one expla-nation for the conflicting findings of several studies on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. It is easy to understand why any added benefit from the fish oils is more difficult to detect, when the majority of partici-pants in these studies are taking a regimen of medications to address the same issues that fish oil might also affect, such as statins, fibrates, anti-thrombotics and other drugs with anti-inflammatory or anti-arrhythmia effects. People should not forget that nutrients, like fish oils, are less potent than prescription drugs and often have best results when used for extended periods.

References

  1. Jump D. P. et al. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and cardiovascular disease - Thematic Review Series: New Lipid and Lipoprotein Targets for the Treatment of Cardiometabolic Diseases. The Journal of Lipid Research. 2012; 53:2525–2545.