Foods that are rich in omega-3 improve survival in heart failure
Heart failure affects millions of people worldwide and many die within the first year of being hospitalized with acute heart failure. However, eating a diet that is rich in the omega-3 fatty acid EPA from oily fish and ALA from plant foods such as walnuts is linked to a lower risk of blood clots and early death, according to a new study that is published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology. You can also read more about another compound that improves cardiac function and survival after acute heart failure.
Heart failure is often caused by atherosclerosis and constriction of the coronary arteries. This impairs the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood to all parts of the body. Heart failure typically results in symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, edemas, and pain in and around the heart. In worst case, coronary thrombosis and sudden death occur
According to the statistics in the United States, 36 percent of men and 47 percent of women older than 45 years of age die after their second heart attack if it occurs within five years of the patient being hospitalized for the first time. Natural prevention should therefore be given high priority.
|Heart failure is the leading cause of death in the United States and most other countries|
The synergistic effect between the two kinds of omega-3, EPA and ALA
The new study included 944 patients who had suffered a serious heart attack and where one of the four major coronary arteries was blocked by atherosclerosis. This is also known as the “widowmaker heart attack” or, in clinical terms, an acute ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI).
The patients in the study were 61 years of age on average. The majority (78 percent) were men.
During hospitalization, blood samples were drawn from the patients in order to determine their levels of the two omega-3 forms, EPA and ALA. EPA is mainly found in maritime food sources like oily fish and shellfish, whereas ALA is found in vegetables sources like walnuts, flaxseed oil, and rapeseed oil. According to the scientists, a blood sample can reflect the patients’ intake of the different kinds of omega-3.
Afterwards, the researchers looked at whether patients with higher omega-3 levels in the blood at the time of their heart attack had a lower risk of complications within the following three years.
It turned out that patients with higher levels of EPA and ALA were in less need of being hospitalized due to heart failure and their risk of dying of heart failure was also lower.
Heart-friendly foods from the animal and plant kingdoms
For over 30 years, walnuts have been touted as a heart-friendly food with a positive effect on cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, atherosclerosis, and endothelial function. The endothelium is the layer of cells that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels.
According to the researchers, walnuts is the only type of nut with a high ALA content. One hundred grams of walnuts provide around nine grams of ALA. In addition, walnuts are a rich source of fiber and vitamin E that also benefit the cardiovascular system. As mentioned, ALA is also found in oils from flaxseed and linseed but it is not advisable to consume large quantities of these oils.
Although the results of the new study are promising, they do not say much about the cause and effect. More studies are needed to conclude whether dietary intake of EPA and ALA can specifically affect the prognosis after a serious heart attack. It is possible that other factors such as social status, education, smoking, and medical treatment also play a role. The study did take fish oil supplementation into account.
Still, it is commonly known that people who consume large quantities of fish are generally healthier and live longer, which is a sign of better cardiovascular health. If you dislike the taste of fish, a fish oil supplement is a viable substitute.
Recommendations for omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish
It is a good idea to eat around 350 grams of fish every week. At least 200 grams of this amount should be in the form of oily fish.
- International experts recommend the following daily fish oil intake:
500 mg to prevent an actual deficiency
1 gram as proactive support of e.g. heart and cardiovascular system
2-4 grams for intensive support of e.g. aching joints and inflammation
When purchasing fish oil supplements, you should always study the label carefully to see how much fish oil (including EPA and DHA) is in each capsule. Fish oil supplements with omega-3 in the form of free fatty acids generally have better absorbability. Also make sure that the supplement you buy is within the safe threshold level with regard to peroxide value and environmental toxins.
More useful information for heart failure patients
On this website, we have written about the Q-Symbio study where daily supplementation with 300 mg of pharmaceutical-grade Q10 given to heart failure patients resulted in improved cardiac function and a 43 percent lower mortality rate. You can read more about the study here:
Lázaro L et al. Circulating Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Incident Adverse Events in Patients With Acute Myocardial Infarction. J Am Coll Cardiol 2020
Emily Henderson. Foods rich in omega-3 EPA and ALA improve outcomes in people who suffered serious heart attack. News Medical Life Sciences. Oct. 28, 2020
Tufts University, Health Sciences Campus. Consumption of omega-3s linked to lower risk of fatal heart disease. Science Daily 2016
Mortensen SA et al. The effect of coenzyme Q10 on morbidity and mortality in chronic heart failure: results from Q-Symbio: a randomized double-blind trial. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, heart Failure 2014
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