A new, comprehensive meta-analysis, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, has added to evidence that omega-3s may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). The study, in which researchers reviewed clinic trials as well as population-based studies, demonstrated how those who consumed more fish oil had an 18% lower risk of heart problems. In sum, an increased intake of the omega-3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) could reduce the risk of heart-related illness for at least one in four Americans.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that are highly regarded for their wide range of therapeutic health benefits. Modern research has focused on how omega-3 supplementation can play a positive role, particularly when it comes to cardiovascular health.
Previous studies have linked omega-3s to
- Reducing triglycerides in the blood.
- Reducing the risk of arrhythmias (irregular heart beats).
- Slowing the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
- Slightly lowering blood pressure.
Omega-3 fatty acids also play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. Infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.
In this new study, which focuses solely on heart health, researchers looked at previously published research on the omega-3s EPA and DHA. They found that consumption of omega-3s in food or supplements was associated with a 16 percent lower risk of heart disease in people with high triglycerides, or fats, in the blood, and a 14 percent lower risk for patients with elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
"What makes this paper unique is that it looked at the effects of EPA and DHA on coronary heart disease specifically, which is an important nuance considering coronary heart disease accounts for half of all cardiovascular deaths in the U.S.," said Dr. Dominik Alexander, lead author and Principal Epidemiologist for EpidStat. "The 6 percent reduced risk among RCTs, coupled with an 18 percent risk reduction in prospective cohort studies -- which tend to include more real-life dietary scenarios over longer periods -- tell a compelling story about the importance of EPA and DHA omega-3s for cardiovascular health."
Additional study details include:
- The study reviewed 18 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and 16 prospective cohort studies, with 93,000 and 732,000 subjects, respectively.
- The study examined outcomes such as myocardial infarction, sudden cardiac death and coronary death.
- The study compared the results of RCTs, which explore interventions under strict clinical conditions, to those of prospective cohort studies that are observational, and followed larger populations for longer periods of time.
"There are important public health implications related to reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, and therefore we are encouraged by the results of this comprehensive analysis," said Dr. Harry Rice, Vice President of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), which funded the study. "It's also important that the observed risk reductions were even stronger in patient populations with elevated triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels, two risk factors that affect more than one quarter of the American population."
In sum the findings from this analysis of data on close to one million patients suggest many people may benefit from boosting the amount of omega-3s they get from eating fish or taking supplements. Omega-3s are found in naturally oil fish such as salmon, sardines and trout.
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week and considering supplements of omega-3 fatty acids when that's not possible. To prevent heart disease, the American Heart Association also recommends adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors such as regular exercise, practicing stress reduction and avoiding smoking. Since most people in the U.S. who follow a typical Western diet do not eat enough fish, a dietary supplement that contains 1,000 milligrams a day of EPA and DHA can help ensure that one is getting enough of these critical nutrients.