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Dietary Intake of Fish Oil Offers Cardioprotective Benefits

Evidence is increasing that the omega-3 polyunsaturated fats docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) play a cardioprotective role in patients diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases and in healthy individuals, a new study says.

Lead researcher, Carl J. Lavie, M.D. from Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans and his colleagues from University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore examined data from retrospective epidemiologic studies and from large randomized clinical trials, covering 20 to 30 years and involving tens of thousands of participants.

The study results will be published in the August 2009 issue of Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Four of these studies, which involved 40,000 patients, provided the most compelling evidence that omega-3 fish oils offer several protective benefits in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. These benefits include decreased risk of atherosclerosis, arrhythmias, heart attack, sudden cardiac death and even heart failure.

“The strongest evidence of a cardioprotective effect of omega-3s appears in patients with established cardiovascular disease and following a heart attack with up to a 30 percent reduction in CV-related death,” said Carl Lavie, M.D. Study results show that the reduction in CV (cardiovascular) events is inversely related to the tissue level of EPA and to a greater extent of DHA.

EPA and DHA work by being incorporated in cell membranes and as a result, may help to improve the heart’s electrical activity, vascular tone, plaque stabilization and blood pressure.

Asian and Alaskan American populations traditionally eat higher levels of fish than Europeans or Americans. As a result, their intake of the important omega-3 polyunsaturated fats is higher. Not surprisingly, their rate of cardiovascular disease is lower.

Based on this latest study, researchers recommended that healthy individuals should consume 500 mg daily of omega-3 fish oil (DHA and EPA). For those with known heart disease or heart failure, they recommend 800 to 1,000 mg daily.

The authors did not provide a recommendation for optimal dosing or the relative ratio of DHA to EPA for cardioprotection. The study authors concluded that further studies are necessary to make this determination.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of your health status, increasing your dietary intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats is prudent.

While we advocate obtaining these important nutrients through foods, this can be a challenge. Only certain fish like salmon and mackerel are high in these omega-3 fats. Because of pollution, ocean caught fish carries the risk of contaminants like PCBs and mercury. While this is not a problem for farm-raised fish, their omega-3 content is often lower than their ocean counterparts because of what they’re fed (e.g., grain or seed vs. algae for ocean faring fish).

Supplementing your diet with a high-quality fish oil supplement is an easy, affordable way to obtain these essential nutrients thereby ensuring general and cardiovascular health.

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