It pays off to make sure to get enough omega-3 from your diet or by taking supplements. Studies show that the content of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood are linked directly to a lower risk of developing atherosclerosis and dying of a heart attack. This was ween in a large epidemiological study that is published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers from several different countries gathered at Tufts University in Boston to design the Fatty Acids and Outcome Research Consortium (FORCE), which looked at 19 studies from 16 different countries with a total of 45,637 participants. As time passed, 7,973 of the participants suffered a heart attack. 2,781 cases were fatal. Chances are that many of these people would still be alive today if they had changed their diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids can save millions of lives
The researchers looked at 19 large, epidemiological studies where levels of different omega-3 fatty acids in the blood or in tissue from the participants had been measured. The different analyses were then gathered in a so-called meta-analysis.
What the researchers found was that greater intake of omega-3 fatty acids generally lowered the risk of fatal heart attacks by around 10 per cent. This effect was seen with both omega-3 from marine sources such as oily fish and from plants.
Moreover, the researchers observed that the blood content of biomarkers for the different omega-3 fatty acids were not associated with a risk of non-fatal heart attacks. Therefore, they assume that the omega-3 fatty acids have a more specific ability to prevent these life-threatening heart attacks.
As cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, there is reason to believe that omega-3 fatty acids hold the potential to save millions of human lives, if they can lower the risk of fatal heart attacks by 10 per cent, as shown.
The most comprehensive study
Liana C. Del Gobbo, PhD, a researcher from Stanford University School of Medicine, claims that this study provides the most comprehensive picture of omega-3 fatty acids and the way in which they prevent heart disease, arguing that the researchers also looked at age, sex, race, diabetes prevalence, and consumption of aspirin and cholesterol-lowering statins.
The majority of earlier studies of dietary fats are only based on self-reports from the participants, but in this new study the researchers also looked at how biomarkers of the different fats and fatty acids affected health and the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Oily fish have the highest content of effective omega-3 fatty acids
Salmon, herring, anchovies, and other oily fish are the best source of long-chained omega-3 fatty acids, which include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DPA (docosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). According to the above mentioned meta-analysis, DPA had the best potential to lower the risk of heart disease and fatal heart attacks. Nonetheless, previous studies show a convincing relation between larger intake of EPA and DHA from fish and lower risk of atherosclerosis of the heart and premature death. Perhaps there should be more focus on DPA in the future.In any case, eating oily fish provides the body with a natural combination of EPA, DPA, and DHA together with protein, selenium and vitamin D. Our low vitamin D status is linked to the fact that we cannot synthesize the vitamin in our skin during the winter period where the sun sits too low in the sky, and as far as selenium is concerned it is because the agricultural soil in large parts of Europe is depleted and contains far too little of this vital nutrient.
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that is found in walnuts, linseed oil, rapeseed oil, and certain other plant oils. Many people have difficulty with converting ALA into EPA, DPA, and DHA because they lack certain enzymes. For that reason, plant oils or other vegetable sources are not the ideal way to get your omega-3.
If you don't like fish
If you genuinely dislike the taste of fish, a good alternative is to consume a high-quality fish oil supplement. But remember to get enough vitamin D and selenium also.
International experts recommend the following EPA/DHA levels:
- 500 mg to prevent a deficiency
- 1 grams for pro-active support of e.g. the heart and cardiovascular system
- 2-4 grams for intensive support - for example aching jointsOn the label you can see the omega-3 content in each capsule
Long-term prevention of atherosclerosis and heart disease
Most cardiovascular diseases are caused by atherosclerosis. Scientists believe that the high content of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and antioxidants like selenium in fish helps to counteract these diseases. Because it takes many years for atherosclerosis to develop, it is ideal to get plenty of these protective nutrients throughout life.
Tufts University, Health Sciences Campus. Consumption of omega-3s linked to lower risk of fatal heart disease. Science Daily 2016
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