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Omega-3 fatty acids may support heart health of smokers

January 23, 2013

A new study suggests that increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may improve the function of the cells lining blood vessels in smokers.

In the randomized controlled trial, 20 male cigarette smokers received two grams of highly purified omega-3 fatty acids per day or placebo for six weeks (1). The study results showed that the blood of participants supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids had more than double the levels of the tissue plasminogen activator (responsible for the breakdown of clots in blood vessels) and significantly higher concentrations of substan-ces known to dilate blood vessels, and thereby improving blood flow, compared with the placebo group.

The researchers commented that high blood omega-3 fatty acid concentrations seem to improve the breakdown of blood clots (endogenous fibrinolysis) and endothelial function in healthy cigarette smokers,
a group at high risk of adverse cardiac events. These distinct but complementary measures of vascular function may represent important mechanisms through which omega-3 fatty acids confer their potential cardiovascular benefits. Although the best advice for smokers is to quit smoking, for those who continue
with their habit daily supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may benefit their heart health. Earlier studies have already linked adequate omega-3 fatty acid intake to improvements in blood lipid levels, a reduced tendency of thrombosis, blood pressure and heart rate improvements, and improved vascular function.

Abnormal endothelial function is common in individuals with cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking. Experts commented that while the new study may have demonstrated improved endothelial function in smokers taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements, it would be unlikely that the endothelial function could be matched with the one of non-smokers. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish and/or supplements are just part of the equation for a healthy lifestyle. Quit smoking would be another key factor, the scientists said.

References

1. Din J. N. et al. Effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on endothelial function, endogenous fibrinolysis and platelet activation in male cigarette smokers. Heart. 2013; 99(3): 168-174.