Omega 3's and Heart Health

Omega 3’s Exhibit Cardio protective Effects

In a pivotal study regarding the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil and heart health, Italian researchers investigated the effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids on survivors of myocardial infarction over a 3 ½ year period. Over eleven thousand participants were randomly assigned either supplements of Vitamin E, Omega-3’s or both, or no supplements whatsoever.

The group receiving Omega-3’s alone experienced significantly lower mortality rates within the first three months of the study. Not only was the risk of sudden death notably reduced at four months, the fish oil subset enjoyed significantly reduced rates of all causes of death, as well as non-fatal myocardial infarction and non-fatal stroke. Overall, treatment with fish oil supplements yielded lower rates of sudden cardiac death (by 45%) and improved all-cause mortality (by 20%).

The researchers noted that the effects attributable to the fish oil supplements support the postulation that Omega-3’s have an anti-arrhythmic effect on the heart, consistent with prior experimental studies. The study also noted that treatment with Vitamin E alone had no statistically-valid beneficial effect.

“Early Protection Against Sudden Death by n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids After Myocardial Infarction: Time-Course Analysis of the Results of the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell’Infarto Miocardico (GISSI)-Prevenzione”. Circulation; 2002; 105;1897-1903.

Fish Oil Part of Regimen to Protect Against Heart Disease

In the first large-scale study of its kind, researchers from the Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan investigated the health effects of daily Omega-3 supplements in combination with a drug commonly prescribed for those at-risk for heart attacks, angina and other coronary events.

Patients were all identified as having higher than average levels of cholesterol. They were divided into two groups: a main group that included nearly 15,000 participants with no prior history of coronary artery disease, and a secondary group with over 3,600 subjects with a prior history of coronary artery disease. Some of each group were given highly-purified fish oil supplements in addition to statins (enzyme blockers that lower cholesterol levels in the blood by reducing the production of cholesterol by the liver), while others were given only the prescription drug.

Over the course of the nearly five-year study, there was a significant difference between those receiving the fish oil supplements and those who did not. While both therapies proved effective in reducing levels of cholesterol, participants taking the fish oil supplements and statins had a 19% reduction in risk for heart illness. The research also noted that a similar, preventative benefit from daily fish oil supplementation that may convey to those not currently deemed at-risk for heart problems.

“Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on cardiovascular events in Japanese patients with hypercholesterolemia: rationale, design, and baseline characteristics of the Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study (JELIS).” American Heart Journal. 2003 Oct;146(4):613-20.

Taking Fish Oil Supplements May Prevent Sudden Death by Cardiac Arrest

In a recent study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, fish oil supplements were found to be effective in preventing sudden cardiac death.

The study measured the possible outcomes of using three variables with live-saving potential in a simulated town of 100,000 subjects aged between 30 - 84: (1) portable defibrillators (AED’s), devices used to shock the heart during cardiac arrest, placed in every home and public area in a medium-sized town, (2) the implantation of cardioverter defibrillators (ICD’s) in candidates exhibiting symptoms necessitating such a procedure (about half of those who die from cardiac arrest have no symptoms prior to the event), and (3) the preventative use of fish oil dietary supplements.

The use of fish oil supplements to boost levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the adult population resulted in a 6.4% reduction in death – 58 lives per year. In fact, the preventative use of supplements proved eight times more effective than distributing AED’s and two times more effective than the surgically placed ICD’s.

Although the study was computer-simulated (thereby avoiding the prohibitive costs associated with providing and implanting the two electronic devices used as variables), it utilized data from two previously conducted, large-scale studies of actual participants.

The study clearly suggests that by supplementing diets with Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, those who appear healthy, but are at-risk for future cardiac arrhythmias or cardiac arrest, have a better chance for survival than those who do not.

“Preventing Sudden Death with n-3 (Omega-3) Fatty Acids and Defibrillators.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2006 Oct;31(4):316.

The Omega 3 Index and Coronary Heart Disease

Low levels of Omega-3’s are implicated in numerous illnesses and are considered a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease. A study appearing in Preventive Medicine builds upon the broad base of studies supporting the benefit of dietary fish oil supplementation.

Researchers used clinical and laboratory experiments to measure of the composition of fatty acids in red blood cells to determine the Omega-3 Index, an associated risk factor index for illnesses associated with coronary heart disease. An index measure of 8% or greater is associated with better heart outcomes, while a risk index of 4% or less seems to indicate susceptibility to heart illnesses. Those who consume fish and fish oil supplements are able to raise their index, decreasing the likelihood of negative cardiac events.

This new risk index appears to be a useful predictor of future heart problems – especially for sudden cardiac death – and one that could be used easily by medical practitioners with significant usefulness.

“The Omega-3 Index: a new risk factor for death from coronary heart disease?“ Preventative Medicine. 2004 Jul;39(1):212-20.



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