Nutrition-wise blog

Omega-3 fatty acids and heart disease

By Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. April 19, 2017

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease. Poor diet is a leading cause of CHD.

The American Heart Association and other major health organizations recommend a dietary that include more plant-based foods and fish at least twice a week.

All fish are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that may reduce irregular heartbeats, decrease triglycerides and slightly lower blood pressure.

There are not yet definitive answers to the questions regarding the role omega-3 fatty acids may play in reducing heart disease risk. In other words, are there benefits to taking a fish oil supplement?

A meta-analysis published in the journal "Mayo Clinic Proceedings" attempted to answer this question. The data pool included studies that looked at association as well as direct cause and effect between omega-3 fatty acids and heart disease. Additionally, the dose of DHA and EPA and outcomes especially for those who are considered at high risk of developing CHD or having an event such as a heart attack were assessed.

The cause-and-effect analysis did not show a statistically significant benefit to omega-3 fatty acids for preventing CHD events. However, the studies that looked at the association between omega-3 fatty acids and CHD were more favorable. In addition, individuals at higher risk of CHD appeared to benefit the most from omega-3 fatty acid intake.

The authors found the data promising; especially since 25 percent of Americans age 21 years or older have elevated triglyceride levels and 27 percent of Americans aged 40-74 have elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Both of these are risk factors for CHD.

How do I interpret this? Eating fish a few times a week and other foods, such as nuts and seeds, that are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids likely offer more overall benefits than fish oil supplements. However, a fish oil supplement, especially if you are at high risk, is worth discussing with your doctor.

April 19, 2017