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Is fish oil good for heart health?
Fish oil has been widely reported to help against a myriad of ailments from ADHD to gut health. Fish oil has most often been reported to be good for your heart, defending against cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. Is the hype around fish oil warranted? We asked 5 experts in physiology, neurology and cardiology, ‘Is fish oil good for heart health?’, this is what they said…
Is fish oil good for heart health?
What’s in fish oil?
Fish oil is found in the tissues of oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna. Dr Theresa Larkin, an expert in physiology from Wollongong University in Australia, says “Fish oil contains long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, often just called omega-3 fatty acids.” Omega-3 fatty acids are molecules made of a hydrocarbon chain with a carboxylic acid group. There are two types of omega-3 fats found in fish oil: EPA and DHA.
What does omega-3 do to the body?
Professor Ludmila Belayev, an expert in neurology at the LSU Health Sciences Centre New Orleans in the USA, says “Your body needs omega-3 fatty acids for many functions. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good health.”
Dr Larkin adds that omega-3 fatty acids “can lower inflammation and have positive benefits on the health of our heart and blood vessels.” She explains that “The direct effects of fish oil on heart health are in the heart itself. When there are more omega-3 fatty acids in the membranes of the heart’s cells, these cells function better. Fish oil can lower a high heart rate and can also reduce the risk of irregular heart rhythms.” She adds that “The indirect benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on the heart are via their effects on the blood vessels and factors in the blood. Fish oil can reduce triglycerides in the blood and prevent blood from clotting too much. They also relax the muscles of the blood vessels. These effects can reduce blood pressure and allow the heart to contract more efficiently and use less energy.”
What is the evidence that fish oil improves heart health?
There have been a range of studies on the effects of fish oil and omega-3 on heart health, with mixed results. These studies vary in many details such as the source of omega-3 they use (e.g. fish diet vs omega-3 supplements), the amount and duration of the omega-3 treatment, or whether the patients are healthy or have existing heart conditions. There are also other factors that can influence whether someone benefits from fish oil or not, such as their genetics and their normal diet.
Dr Jawahar Mehta, a cardiologist from Arkansas University in the USA, says “The basic research shows promising effect of fish oil on thrombus formation and on cellular injury. In some clinical trials in patients with very high triglyceride levels and previous cardiac events, the use of fish oil, especially high concentrations of EPA, looks very good.” Dr Mehta adds that “Unfortunately, the large number of trials on the use of fish oil in patients with heart disease do not reveal very promising results. This is true in both primary and secondary prevention trials.”
Dr Larkin says “People who consume higher levels of fish oil have a lower risk of heart disease and lower risk of death due to heart disease.”
How can you consume fish oil?
Professor Belayev says “Fish oil supplements might be helpful if you have high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and cholesterol or rheumatoid arthritis. Try getting high-quality fish oil produced from Norwegian Atlantic salmon, which includes 500 or 1000mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).” The omega-3 supplements market size was valued at 5.6 billion US dollars in 2020.
You can also get omega-3 from fish directly, particularly oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, seabass and sardines. A strong correlation between fish consumption and improved heart health has been observed since the 1970s, so perhaps fish consumption is a better way to improve heart health, as compared to taking omega-3 supplements.
Fish oil may improve heart health, but there are other ways that are more effective at improving your heart health: exercise, balanced diet and reduced smoking and alcohol.
May the facts be with you!
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