Oil about hearts

Mammals can do many things: they can carry their young within their body, they can exist in marine or terrestrial environments, and some can use language to communicate (while others just use it to confuse the issue). Although it’s not so well publicised mammals can even introduce double bonds into most parts of the chain of a fatty acid; what they can’t do is introduce those bonds at the omega-3 and omega-6 positions on the chain. That makes omega-3 and omega-6 fats essential in the human diet, the problem is that although we typically consume plenty of omega-6 oils our consumption of omega-3 oils is less than adequate. As a result, consuming omega-3 fats from fish or in supplements yields a gamut of health benefits, probably none greater than the effect to protect against heart that was suggested in a new study. The question is how do omega-3 fats do this and how much do you need to achieve it?

The new study was a meta-analysis of the available data done by researchers from Harvard University. Their stated objective was to systematically review the evidence on the association of omega-3 fatty acids and fish intake with the incidence of heart failure. To do this they used all relevant studies identified from the MEDLINE and EMBASE databases up to August 31, 2011 without restrictions.

The analysis showed that increased intakes of omega-3s and higher blood levels of these fatty acids are associated with a fifteen per cent decrease in the risk of heart failure. Seven prospective studies provided data on 176,441 subjects, and also concluded people with the highest category of EPA and DHA levels had a fourteen per cent lower risk of heart failure, compared to people with the lowest levels. Deeper analysis of these figures showed that for every fifteen gram per day increase in fish consumption, the risk of heart failure was reduced by five per cent. In addition, for every 125 mg per day increase in EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, the associated risk of heart failure was decreased by three per cent.

Although impressive, these results fit with other studies in this area.

A study from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April 2011) reported that eating one to two servings of fatty fish per week or taking omega-3 oil supplements, may reduce a woman’s risk of heart failure by about 25 to 30 per cent. The researchers analysed data from 36,234 women between the ages of 48 and 83, participating in the Swedish Mammography Cohort over the course of eighteen years. These researchers concluded that consuming one serving of fatty fish per week could reduce a woman’s risk of developing heart failure by twenty per cent, and two servings per week could reduce the risk by 30 per cent, compared with women who ate no fatty fish.

A study published in the Lancet (December 2008) found that among people with heart failure who stayed on a course of omega-3 oils had a fourteen per cent reduction in risk of death from all causes.

These studies are just the tip of the iceberg in the evidence that omega-3 oils promote heart health. In fact, these researchers said that the evidence suggests that omega-3s should be used as primary prevention for heart failure. That is a big statement and it shows that there is nothing fishy about the benefits of omega-3 for the heart.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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