TROMSO, NORWAY. Fish and fish oils help protect against the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease. It is believed that fish oils exert their protective effect by lowering blood pressure and the levels of triglycerides and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). Fish oils are also believed to reduce platelet aggregation and to suppress the growth of smooth-muscle cells in the arterial walls. Many people with hypertension also suffer from diabetes and there has been concern that fish oil supplementation may aggravate problems with glucose intolerance. Researchers at the University of Tromso now report that fish oil supplementation lowers blood pressure significantly in people with hypertension and has no effect on glucose control even in people with mild diabetes. The study involved 78 obese volunteers with essential hypertension. The participants were randomly assigned to one of two equal-sized groups. The fish oil group received four fish oil capsules a day (containing a total of 3.4 grams of a mixture of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) for a period of 16 weeks. The control group received four corn oil capsules a day.
At the end of the test period the average (mean) systolic blood pressure had dropped by 4.4 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure by 3.2 mm Hg in the fish oil group. The average blood pressure in the control group did not change. The researchers also found that plasma triglyceride and VLDL levels in the fish oil group decreased significantly (by about 9 per cent) while they increased significantly (by about 12 per cent) in the control group. There were no changes in total or low-density-lipoprotein levels in either group. Extensive tests (oral glucose tolerance, hyperglycemic and hyperinsulemic clamps) were done to evaluate the effect of fish oil supplementation on glucose control. No adverse effects were found. An editorial accompanying the research report concludes that fish or fish oil is useful in the prevention of vascular disease in diabetics. Patients with diabetes should eat fish two to three times a week or, as an alternative, supplement with two to three one gram capsules of fish oil per day.
For physicians: internal medicine CME courses covering diabetes, hypertension and metabolic syndrome.