Fish oil can greatly improve your heart health

Heart disease and stroke are the number one cause of death in Malaysia (and the world for that matter).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), heart disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for 17.5 million deaths in 2012, representing 31% of all deaths. Of these deaths, an estimated 7.4 million were due to heart disease, and 6.7 million due to stroke.

Often, heart disease is the result of poor lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, smoking, excessive intake of alcohol and high stress levels.

While it is true that genetics can also contribute to the development of heart disease, it is far less important than lifestyle choices over which you have control of.

We can start by eating healthily, exercising regularly and managing stress levels, as well as considering taking dietary supplements.

One such supplement is fish oil, which can benefit your heart (with or without existing heart conditions).

Not all fats are equal

Many people still believe that all fats are bad. In recent years, experts have taken us from “all fat is bad” to a more refined view of “some fats are good”.

We now know that good fats are vital to life, and some dietary fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, are unquestionably critical for keeping us in the pink of health.

Every single cell in the body needs omega-3 to stay healthy. Cells depend on it to help build membranes and ensure there is efficient signalling and communication between cells, aiding in the control of thousands of bodily functions.

Omega-3 comes under the group of essential fatty acids. Essential here means the body needs it, but cannot make it. Thus, it has to be consumed from the diet.

One of the most well-known sources of omega-3 fatty acids come from oily fish such as salmon, tuna and deep-sea cold water-sourced anchovies and sardines harvested from the South Pacific Ocean.

There are literally thousands of scientific papers published showing the benefits of omega-3, specifically EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), on human health.

Many of these studies demonstrate that EPA and DHA consumption benefits the heart by lowering blood pressure and triglycerides, as well as reducing the risk of cardiac death.

EPA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid responsible for the proper functioning of the inflammatory system, which is dependant on “messaging molecules” called prostaglandins. Many of these prostaglandins are made directly from EPA.

Equally important, most of the prostaglandins made from EPA tend to be anti-inflammatory in their effect. Therefore, your risk of excessive inflammation and inflammation-related disease can be lowered through consumption of foods rich in EPA.

Omega-3 consumption has been associated with up to 50% risk reduction of suffering a primary cardiac arrest, and studies have shown EPA consumption to reduce the risk of major coronary events by 19% in those with a history of cardiovascular heart disease.

DHA is a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid found throughout the body. It is a major structural fat in the brain and retina.

DHA is needed for the integrity of retinal cells, and has been shown to promote retinal development and repair in studies. It is also a key component of the heart.

Studies have shown that DHA plays a role in maintaining normal triglyceride levels, heart rate and blood pressure.

One of the first large-scale studies on EPA and DHA consumption was the GISSI Prevenzione study. It was published in the August 1999 issue of The Lancet.

This study followed 11,324 patients taking 1 gram of EPA and DHA per day.

The study showed a reduced risk of cardiovascular death and overall mortality risk in those who had survived a recent heart attack over the course of 3.5 years of treatment.

Other heart health benefits include:

  • Improving cholesterol levels – Higher omega-3 plasma levels correlate with higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels.
    Supplementation with omega-3 resulted in a reduction in the ratio of triglycerides to HDL level, a beneficial change.
  • Lowering blood pressure – Studies have confirmed that omega-3 can help lower blood pressure levels and/or help prevent them from rising. This reduces our risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Keeping atherosclerosis at bay – Numerous studies show that EPA and DHA from fish oil can prevent the development of atherosclerosis, a disease in which a plaque-like substance forms on the walls of blood vessels.

Try to incorporate a few servings of fatty fish like sardines, anchovies, wild salmon or tuna in your meals every week, and add on a high quality omega-3 supplement.

A good quality omega-3 supplement will list the amount of EPA and DHA on the label, and it should contain at least 600mg of EPA and DHA.

The purity of the product is also important. Look for molecularly-distilled fish oil, as the distillation process reduces a wide variety of contaminants such as heavy metals.